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Bruins at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas faces bigger test with Boston in town in first half of back-to-back

The Knights defeated Boston 4-1 when these teams met in December.

Boston Bruins v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights will play six games in nine days, starting tonight when they host the Boston Bruins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights are coming off what they hope will prove to be a turning point in their 2021-22 season en route to the franchise’s fifth consecutive playoff berth.

The Knights beat the Sharks on home ice Tuesday night by a final score of 3-1; it was the team’s 11th straight victory against San Jose, the 500th win of Pete DeBoer’s coaching career and the 20th win of the season for Robin Lehner.

Lehner was not tested in his first game after missing five. Tonight is the first half of a back-to-back, with the Knights heading to Anaheim to take on the Ducks tomorrow. Regardless of whether Lehner gets the nod against Boston or takes on the Ducks, he is likely to see a lot more rubber and will need to be a bigger part of Vegas’ effort.

The Bruins are coming off a 4-3 loss to the Ducks in which Trevor Zegras scored the game-winning goal on the power play with just 22 seconds left in regulation.

The Bruins had won five straight prior to Tuesday’s defeat

This will be the first time the Knights welcome back Tomas Nosek to T-Mobile Arena after the original expansion selection left via free agency; it also will mark the second time Erik Haula has returned to Sin City (he scored a goal and an assist as a member of the Hurricanes the last time he played in front of the Vegas faithful).

Haula has seven goals and 22 points in 51 games with Boston, while Nosek has three goals and 12 points in 48 games.

The Bruins gave it a go with Tuukka Rask, but the veteran netminder has since gone back into retirement, bringing the familiar tandem of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark back to the forefront. Swayman has won four games in a row and currently sits at 13-7-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and three shutouts; Ullmark is 17-9-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.

Swayman was in net when these teams squared off earlier this season, giving up four goals on 25 shots. Lehner made 23 saves on 24 shots at the other end of the rink.

The Knights will need Lehner to put up similar numbers tonight, especially since Vegas has struggled against Boston historically, posting an all-time record of 2-4-1.

The Bruins have split up the “Perfection Line,” giving the club more scoring depth, which will be a key focus for Vegas.

David Pastrnak has moved down to the second line to play with Taylor Hall and Haula. He has nine points in his last six games and is one goal shy of 30, a milestone he has hit three times before in his career.

Patrice Bergeron has five points in his last six games and is the only player who scored against Vegas back in the Dec. 14 meeting in Beantown. That was the game when Max Pacioretty scored a power-play goal in the final second of the second period, and the win kicked off Vegas’ four-game sweep of East Coast clubs.

Jake DeBrusk has been on a notable hot streak of late, scoring nine points of his own in the last six games (he recorded a hat trick as part of a four-point night in the Bruins’ 7-0 win against Los Angeles over the weekend). The 25-year-old requested a trade earlier this season but is now skating on Boston’s top line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who is tied with Pastnrak for the team lead with 54 points (though Marchand has 23 goals and 31 assists).

Bergeron is third on the team in scoring with 41 points, and Hall has 12 goals and 40 points in his first full season with the B’s.

Prior to Tuesday, the Bruins had won three straight games with DeBrusk on the top line; that trio continues to gel.

The Bruins’ power play hasn’t been lights-out per se but remains a top-10 unit, operating at 24.4 percent for seventh overall in the league. The penalty kill ranks 10th with an 81.6 percent efficacy rate.

Special teams weren’t a factor the other night against San Jose, and that’s something the Knights would love to see tonight. The Knights’ special teams are 22nd (18.4 percent on the power play) and 14th (80.1 percent on the penalty kill) overall, but neither has been reliable, making discipline another key to tonight’s game.

This will be a much tougher test for a Golden Knights team that has defeated the Sharks twice but otherwise gone just 0-4-1 in its last five games, including one against Arizona.

The Bruins will be eager to get back in the win column and get their hands on the two points up for grabs; they currently hold the first wildcard seed in the Eastern Conference with 68 points in 54 games and trail the third-place Maple Leafs by six points.

Boston has more of a cushion, since the first team out of a wildcard seed is still eight points back. However, Boston will be shooting for an Atlantic Division slot to secure some home-ice advantage for the playoffs, so the Knights have to be on their game at all times tonight.

The Knights have to take advantage of any opportunities Boston may cough up; the amount of forward talent on this roster can change the game in an instant. The Knights will need another strong performance from former Bruins forward Reilly Smith as well as the rest of the Misfit Line, coming off a six-point game that featured two full-line goals. The Misfit Line was all over the ice the other night; Vegas will need a similar effort once again tonight, though two-way responsibility will be crucial given the elite skill many players possess.

Standings update

The Golden Knights currently occupy the third seed in the Pacific Division standings.

Calgary leads the way in the Pacific with 70 points in 52 games, with Los Angeles — coming off its second straight loss (a 4-3 loss to Dallas) — is second with 65 points in 55 games.

The Knights have 64 points in 54 games, meaning they can make up ground tonight if they can capitalize on the Kings’ recent slide. A win tonight would put them in second place with a one-point lead; in that case, Calgary would hold just a four-point lead but still would have three games in hand.

The Flames play Montreal tonight (4 p.m. PT); Edmonton will go toe-to-toe with Marc-Andre Fleury in Chicago (5:30 p.m. PT).

Projected lineups

Vegas

Evgenii Dadonov — Jack Eichel — Chandler Stephenson
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Smith
William Carrier — Nicolas Roy — Michael Amadio
Jonas Rondbjerg — Brett Howden — Keegan Kolesar

Ben Hutton — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nic Hague — Zach Whitecloud

Lehner
Laurent Brossoit

Boston

Marchand — Bergeron — DeBrusk
Hall — Haula — Pastrnak
Trent Frederic — Charlie Coyle — Craig Smith
Nick Foligno — Nosek — Jesper Frödén

Mike Reilly — Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk — Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort — Connor Clifton

Swayman
Ullmark


How to watch

Time: 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM