Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Red Wings challenge division-leading Bruins

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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 Joe Louis Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Red Wings are back home after a brief detour to Buffalo, but maybe it would have been better if they had stayed on the road.

They have struggled lately and a lot of that has taken place at The Joe. As a result, Detroit now has a 4-4-6 home record despite being 11-7-7 overall.

To make matters worse, Detroit will be without Pavel Datsyuk (head) and Todd Bertuzzi (shoulder) tonight. They also won’t lead with goaltender Jimmy Howard, although that’s for an entirely different reason.

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Howard hasn’t won a game since Nov. 1 and has allowed at least three goals in six of his last eight contests.

“Let’s be clear, we’ll go as far as Howie takes us,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told the Detroit News. “He’s an elite goalie who it hasn’t gone as good as he’d like to lately. We’ll give him a breather to work with Jimmy (Bedard, Red Wings goaltender coach).”

Backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has been great lately and he’ll have to keep that up because the Boston Bruins aren’t likely to make many mistakes. The Red Wings rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to goals per game while the Bruins lead the league with a team 1.83 GAA.

Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has been stunning and he’ll be backed up by one of the league’s deeper offenses. That’s nothing new for the Bruins, although the cast is different this season, including newcomers Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, and Jarome Iginla. All of them have stepped up at various times, along with returning stars Milan Lucic and David Krejci, but this team still has another level if they can all come together.

“Chemistry on the ice develops with time and through adversity, through tough times, through good times,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said, according to CSN New England. He added, “So I think it’s an ongoing thing, and those guys will let that evolve throughout the whole year. You just hope it’s at its best always at the right time of the year.”

As it is, they are certainly a serious contender. With a 16-6-2 record, the Bruins lead the Atlantic Division, but the Red Wings are only five points behind despite their recent slump. Detroit has plenty to overcome, but they can keep the pressure on Boston with a win tonight.