(Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter: @zcarlone21

It’s been smooth sailing for the Boston Bruins as of late. They’ve won their last five games and eight of their last nine to start the new year on a high note. The black and gold are coming off a thrilling victory against the Nashville Predators, one of their most difficult opponents this season. Thanks to a terrific overtime winner from forward Taylor Hall, the Bruins came out on top. Hall had a nice passing sequence with forward David Pastrnak and defenseman Urho Vaakanainen to seal the deal. The Bruins will face another tough test tonight as the Carolina Hurricanes meet the Bruins at TD Garden. The puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST following the jersey retirement ceremony of Willie O’Ree.

Honoring a Pioneer

Tonight’s a special night for the Bruins. Not only do they face off against one of the East’s most competitive squads, but they also get to honor a legend of the game. Willie O’Ree, a former Boston Bruin, will have his no. 22 raised to the rafters after an incredible legacy he left on the game is finally being recognized. O’Ree is considered by many the “Jackie Robinson of hockey” as he broke the color barrier for the game by making his NHL debut in January of 1958. It was a powerful moment for the game, and its ripple effects are still felt today.

O’Ree finished his career with four goals and 14 points in 45 games. His impact on the sport stretches beyond the numbers and beyond the ice. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November of 2018 and undoubtedly is the motivating factor leading to the league’s diversity and inclusion that we see today. Rightfully so, O’Ree will forever be a part of Boston Bruins history after his number gets hung at TD Garden with the other Bruins greats.

Tuukka Time

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is turning back to goaltender Tuukka Rask after Linus Ullmark earned the Bruins two points in a victory over the Predators last time out. Rask made his season debut on January 13th against the Philadelphia Flyers. He only surrendered two goals on 27 shots while leading the Bruins to a 3-2 win. He was impressive under pressure and should only get more comfortable with more time between the pipes.

One game won’t tell the whole story for how the former first-round pick’s season goes. We’re quickly approaching the mid-way point of the season, but Rask is already holding a 2.01 GAA, and a .926 save percentage. Those numbers will decrease in due time, but it’s safe to say Rask is back to his healthy self for now. He’ll be tested by the Hurricanes offense tonight, however, as Carolina’s team is averaging 3.40 goals per game and 33.5 shots per game.

Grzelcyk Returns

Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is expected to return tonight following a two-game absence from his placement on the COVID-protocol list. The offensive-minded defenseman returns to a lineup that has seen significant contributions from those guys who took Grzelcyk’s place, most notably Urho Vaakanainen. Left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly has also played well in a more prominent role during the 28-year-old’s absence, notching his fourth goal of the season in Saturday’s overtime victory.

Grzelcyk has two goals and 14 points, and a +/- of five in 33 games this season. Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy will get his familiar partner back on the ice with him. The duo will face the daunting task of specifically slowing down the high-flying Hurricanes’ top-six forward group. No. 48 should also regain his spot on the team’s second power-play unit.

Bruins Projected Lineup

Marchand – Bergeron – Smith

Hall – Haula – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Coyle – Steen

Blidh – Nosek – Lazar

Grzelcyk – McAvoy

Reilly – Carlo

Vaakanainen – Forbort