BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 21: Ville Leino #23 of the Buffalo Sabres passes the puck in front of Gregory Campbell #11 of the Boston Bruins in the first period during the game at TD Garden on December 21, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Sabres look to slow Bruins’ surge

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Boston Bruins will head to First Niagara Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The next time these two teams meet, the Buffalo Sabres are likely to look significantly different. Without a hope of making the playoffs, Buffalo is poised to trade several of its key players, including starting goaltender Ryan Miller, top forward Matt Moulson, and perhaps captain Steve Ott.

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Before that happens though, the Sabres can make life difficult for the Bruins and prevent them from sowing up their season series, which Boston currently leads 2-1 with two games remaining, including tonight’s contest.

As play resumes, Boston has a seven-point edge on the Atlantic Division title, but the second place Tampa Bay Lightning are about to get injured forward Steven Stamkos back and Montreal Canadiens goaltender Caray Price should have returned to North America with plenty of confidence after leading Canda to gold in the 2014 Winter Games.

Under ideal circumstances, the Bruins would like to lock up the division before Tampa Bay, Montreal, and, for that matter, Toronto, have a chance to make things interesting again. Buffalo can certainly make that task a little more difficult for the Bruins tonight.

This will be a battle of backup goaltenders as Tuukka Rask didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo, according to CSN New England.

Rask has never played in more than 45 NHL games in a single season, but he’s already taken part in 43 contests in 2013-14 and is getting some time off to readjust after representing Finland in the Olympics. Part of what Boston would gain by securing the division title with time to spare would be the luxury of frequently resting Rask before what the Bruins hope will be another lengthy playoffs run.

Buffalo will counter with Jhonas Enroth as he enters a critical part of his career. If Miller is traded or leaves as an unrestricted free agent this summer, then Enroth will have a chance to establish himself as the Sabres’ starting goaltender. He hasn’t had an ideal season, but a strong showing against Boston following the break would be a meaningful step in the right direction.

For the Sabres, steps like that are the best they can hope for. If they end up spoiling other teams objectives at the same time, then that would be the icing on the cake for them.

Bruins charting the progress of goalie prospect Malcolm Subban

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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Like most young goalies moving from the world of junior hockey to the professional levels, Malcolm Subban possesses raw skill and ability. Now it’s a matter of developing that skill and adding the quality of better positional play, which is happening right now in the American Hockey League.

Subban, the Boston Bruins’ first-round pick, 24th overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft, has played in 21 games this season with the Providence Bruins, and is among the top-10 AHL goalies in goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.921).

The NHL Bruins, even with some solid goaltenders ahead of the 20-year-old Subban in Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnson, like what they’ve seen from their young puck-stopping prospect down in the minors. But plenty of work still lies ahead.

“There are some areas technically Bob (Essensa, the B’s goalie coach) has been working with him. I think overall the adjustment to the pro game has been a bit of an eye-opener at times for him,” Bruins’ assistant general manager Don Sweeney told The Boston Herald.

“His athleticism is pretty natural and he relies on it heavily. I think Bob is tweaking things to try to get him to be a little more technical — allow pucks to hit him, rather than being explosive on every save.”

Bruins’ GM Chiarelli pleased with youth, depth on the blue line

Peter Chiarelli
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Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli certainly likes the direction his team is going in, especially on the blue line.

And that’s without the services of the steady Dennis Seidenberg, out since Dec. 27 and done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. It’s also with a relatively inexperience group of young defensemen, including the likes of Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton.

But even with Boston’s improving and strong play on the back end, Chiarelli hasn’t ruled out adding another defenseman when the roster freeze ends at the conclusion of the Sochi Olympics and the NHL stretch drive begins.

“There are really not that many players available, so beggars can’t be choosers really at this point,” Chiarelli told CSNNE.com.

“With each passing game, I see our D maturing, I see them making fewer mistakes, and it makes it a little easier on me. But I always feel that we need eight good NHL defenders going in to the playoffs.

“While I’m certainly not going to replace [Dennis Seidenberg], he’s too good and those players aren’t available, you’d like to think that there is a player with a little bit of Seids’ [Dennis Seidenberg] defending that we could find, and [that could] help us. But this year’s been a story about our depth, and I’ve been happy with it.”

The Bruins, Stanley Cup champs in 2011 and finalists in 2013, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins are the easy favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference later this spring.

The Bruins have opened up a seven-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division and are five points back of the Penguins in the East.

Bruins’ Paille leaves game after second period (Updated)

Daniel Paille
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Boston Bruins’ forward Daniel Paille has left Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the club announced at the start of the third period via Twitter.

At the time, there was no specific update on why he had left the game, or if he had suffered an injury. Paille’s last shift came at the end of the second period, with the Bruins ahead at the time by three goals.

In 49 games this season, the 29-year-old Paille has eight goals and 13 points.

Updated: Paille left the game for precautionary reasons, but Bruins head coach Claude Julien believed Paille “should be fine.”

Bruins add to Canucks woes with 3-1 win

Vancouver Canucks v Boston Bruins
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Things aren’t getting any easier for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins 3-1 at TD Garden, good for their fifth straight loss.

Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla each had a goal and an assist and Tuukka Rask stopped 21 shots. Raphael Diaz scored his first goal as a Canuck and Roberto Luongo made 29 saves.

If there’s a positive to be taken out of this game for Vancouver it’s that they played with a less-than healthy roster and hung in tough with the Bruins. Henrik Sedin was playing in obvious pain, Ryan Kesler was laying out to block shots with seconds left to play, and they had a few too many guys who have been in Utica recently to try and keep up with Boston.

While they had all that going on, Luongo took the loss on his shoulders.

Vancouver’s five-game road trip marches on to Montreal on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday.