Bruins can see off resurgent Chicago

The New Year signals one thing in the NHL and that is the Winter Classic – now an annual event since its introduction in 2008 – one of three series of regular season outdoor games, along with the Heritage Classic and Stadium Series.

It is a spectacle of a game that certainly catches the imagination, with the players returning to their roots to play “pond hockey” in front of the season’s biggest crowd, with a TV audience to match.

History to be made at Notre Dame

This year’s venue marks a bit of history as it is the first time the Winter Classic will be played in a state without an NHL team – Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, with a current capacity of almost 78,000.

Being closer to Chicago though, the Blackhawks are the designated home team in an Original Six match-up against the Boston Bruins, adding a bit more lustre to proceedings, and ‘home’ advantage could be key to their hopes of victory.

Boston have been installed as favourites to pick up the win, currently priced at 1.80, and that is no surprise given the two sides’ respective campaigns so far.

The Bruins were viewed at the start of the season as a contender for Stanley Cup honours and they remain in the hunt – currently eighth in the betting at 19.00, despite a frustrating sort of season to date.

Depth issues for Boston

It is reminiscent of last season when they suffered their fair share of disappointments, only for an ungodly hot-streak to propel them into Presidents’ Trophy contention and, of course, into the play-offs.

At almost the mid-point of the campaign, the Bruins hold a wildcard position in the Eastern Conference, for which they can be backed at 12.00 to win, although they are only two points behind Buffalo in the Atlantic Division. They have plenty of time to secure a top-three spot, even if Tampa Bay and Toronto seem to have nailed down places one and two.

Boston’s main problems lie in a lack of depth, with a heavy reliance on their top line, and a number of injury problems has seemingly brought that to the fore over the course of the season, while they have also struggled on the road – something that perhaps does not bode well for the Winter Classic.

Their home form has been excellent and if they can perform better away from TD Garden, then another play-off run should surely be a formality.

Marchand hands Boston boost

Boston’s Brad Marchand looks like he is winning his fitness race to play in the Winter Classic as a timely boost, badly needed considering Charlie McAvoy has been rated as “questionable”.

Tuuka Rask returned between the pipes in the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime success over the Sabres last time out – which ended a two-game losing streak – although coach Bruce Cassidy has yet to confirm who his starting goaltender will be, with Jaroslav Halak having played in four of the previous five games before that Buffalo win.

Boston’s recent form has been good, winning seven of their last 11 including victories over Toronto and Nashville, so should be confident against Chicago.

The Blackhawks of course have struggled this term, parting ways with three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville along the way, with Jeremy Colliton taking the reins.

Goals are not a problem for the Hawks but defending them is, as only one team has conceded more than their tally of 149, as it looks like rebuilding work needs to be done on the squad.

Chicago on the up?

Chicago are the third worst team in the Western Conference from a standings viewpoint, but their recent form offers encouragement for the New Year’s Day clash.

The Hawks have won six of their last nine games, beating the likes of Colorado (twice), Nashville and Pittsburgh in that run and go into the Notre Dame clash looking to win a third straight game.

Given that information, 2.05 for an in-form home side offers some value but they are difficult to back with confidence, considering three better Chicago teams have also lost the Winter Classic.

The Hawks have been terrible at times this season and the Bruins, albeit patched up to a degree, can capitalise on a suspect defence to pick up the win, with over 3.5 Boston goals worth considering at 2.35.