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With an impressive first half of the season in the books, three Bruins forwards are being recognized for their performances on the ice. Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara were all included on the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s Midseason Awards list announced on Friday. The awards, which included the eight traditional end-of-season honors and two new awards, were voted on by more than 150 writers and broadcasters and 2,000 fans.

Bergeron finished first in voting for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game, in front of Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar. Bergeron has already won the award four times during his career, claiming it in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017. If he earns the honor again, he will break his tie with former Montreal Canadiens forward Bob Gainey to become the first player in NHL history to win it five times.

The 14-year veteran is having yet another stellar season both offensively and defensively. Bergeron has registered 20 goals and 22 assists for 42 points in 42 games this season while winning 57.4% of his faceoffs and accumulating 39 takeaways.

The Calder Trophy, awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition, featured rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy as a finalist. The Long Beach, New York native finished third in voting behind New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal and Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser. McAvoy has been turning heads in his first season, tallying five goals and 20 assists for 25 points through his first 45 games, while racking up 102 hits and 56 blocked shots. He will look to become the first Bruin to win the Calder since goaltender Andrew Raycroft did so in the 2003-2004 season.

One of the new honors featured on the list was the Rod Langway Award, given to the defenseman who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara finished second in voting behind Los Angeles King defenseman Drew Doughty and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. With 1,397 games under his belt through nearly 20 seasons, Chara continues to shut down his opponents’ top threats, blocking 83 shots and throwing 97 hits in 47 games this season. His +25 rating is second in the NHL behind only Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson’s +26.

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Coming into the season, the Boston Bruins appeared to meet all the qualifications of a team whose window to win a Stanley Cup was closed.

The B’s looked as if they would be heavily reliant on stars who were either in the latter years of their prime or past it; they’d made questionable trades of young stars and had a goalie coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons.

Instead, Boston is not only competitive, but they’re also making a case as the NHL’s second-most-dangerous team behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boston ranks No. 3 in team Corsi for percentage, second in even-strength goals for percentage, ninth in power play percentage and eighth on the penalty kill.

Simply put: The Bruins’ Stanley Cup window is wide-open.


Elite players are still elite

Years down the road, we might find that age curves shifted in the 2010s. With an emphasis on health, fewer fights and head hits as well as more work being done to study factors like dehydration and workload, it’s possible that hockey players’ primes will last into their 30s instead of ending in the late 20s, as current age curve models suggest.

The Bruins could be evidence of this effect. Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, ages 32 and 29, respectively, are having among their best seasons in 2017-18.

With a hat trick on Thursday night, Bergeron has 19 goals and 19 assists in 39 games. His 57.9 percent Corsi for percentage ranks third in the NHL among forwards, with only Chicago’s Brandon Saad and Columbus’ Artemi Panarin ahead of him. When Bergeron has been on the ice this season, the B’s have taken 161 more shots than their opponents and outscored them 30-9.

Bergeron’s longtime linemate Marchand is leading the team with 46 points, placing him just inside the top 20 in the league despite missing a handful of games. He ranks fifth in even-strength scoring rate, with 3.39 points per 60 minutes.

These numbers are all on par or better than when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11. Bergeron produced 57 points in 2010-11 with a 54.2 Corsi for percentage, while Marchand had 41 points in 77 games.

Zdeno Chara, who will turn 41 in March, is still playing more than 23 minutes per game, down about just two minutes from 2010-11. And while his shot differential numbers have slipped from seasons past, the 6-foot-9 blueliner still isn’t letting anyone get in front of the net. With Chara on the ice, the Bruins have produced 158 high-danger chances to their opponents’ 129, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Veteran stars David Backes (33) and David Krejci (31) have missed time this season, but when in the lineup they are each making significant contributions. The former Blues captain has 18 points in 27 games and wins 52.9 percent of his faceoffs, while Krejci has 23 points in 26 games.

The combination of all of Boston’s veterans clicking at once has helped push the Bruins to an 8-0-2 record in their past 10 games and moved them into the top five in even-strength goals for and fewest goals allowed.

The youth movement

Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, Backes and Krejci aren’t driving the Bruins’ success alone. For a team that has rarely drafted early in the first round during the past decade, Boston has a remarkable number of key players under the age of 23 playing key roles. In fact, of the Bruins’ top six scorers, four are 23 and under.

That group starts with David Pastrnak, 21-year-old right winger flanking Bergeron and Marchand on Boston’s deadly top line. Last season, the Czech forward broke out to the tune of 70 points in 75 games. He’s been even better this season, with 41 points in 44 games.

The Bruins selected Pastrnak with the 25th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The knock on him was size and strength, but his high-end skill allowed an instant jump from playing in Sweden. Of all the players drafted in 2014, only Leon Draisaitl has more points than Pastrnak.

Another first-rounder Jake DeBrusk, 21, has made an immediate impact in his rookie campaign, scoring 20 even-strength points in 40 games while largely playing alongside Krejci.

The pleasant surprise of the group is Danton Heinen, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who scored more than a point per game at the University of Denver and had a solid 2016-17 in the minors. He’s made the jump smoothly, adding 19 even-strength points in 40 games, playing the majority of his minutes with Riley Nash and Backes.

The biggest difference-maker in the bunch is 20-year-old rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. He joined the Bruins in the postseason last spring and immediately took on a top-four role. He’s built on that experience this season, averaging 22:47 per game in ice time. The former Boston University blueliner has 24 points, 15 of which have come in even-strength assists. McAvoy has become a consistent puck-moving partner for Chara.

Boston’s collection of under-23s isn’t just bringing them value in the form of impressive production; those players are also allowing the B’s to survive huge veteran contracts.

Take the Chicago Blackhawks for example. With mega deals handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Chicago struggles to find cheap depth that will support its stars. For the Bruins, the total cap hit of DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy is just $2.65 million. Boston saved in per-season spending by doing a six-year deal with Pastrnak, whose cap hit is a reasonable $6.66 million.

The youngsters also give the Bruins the type of depth required to go deep in the postseason. Even if players like DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy are inexperienced, Boston has them playing alongside veterans who have made deep postseason runs.

The goalie

No matter how deep we dig into the numbers or what technology arises, we might never fully understand a team’s impact on goalie performance. But in Boston’s case, it’s pretty easy to draw a connection between a stronger, deeper team and a better defense corps this season helping out Tuukka Rask.

At his absolute peak, Rask’s even-strength save percentage was an otherworldly .943. That mark slipped for three straight seasons, all the way down to .919 in 2016-17. Normally a goalie’s even-strength numbers are more predictable from season to season than his overall save percentage, so a three-season slide would be cause for concern. But he’s rebounded to a .928 save percentage in 2017-18, which may have something to do with the Bruins allowing the fewest high-danger chances in the NHL, per Natural Stat Trick.

Debates will rage for eternity as to whether teams should pay big money for top-notch goalies, but one thing is clear: Good goaltending is a requirement to win the Stanley Cup. Rask has been excellent in his postseason career, posting a .928 save percentage and giving the B’s quality starts in 62.3 percent of his starts.

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Bruce Cassidy expected some rust in Adam McQuaid’s game.

After all, the burly defenseman had not played in three months, the result of a broken right fibula from blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 16.

But after a solid all-around performance in his return during Boston’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, there was little indication that the veteran blue liner had missed the last 36 games.

“Very solid, thought he handled the puck very well, especially at the offensive blue line,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Thursday morning at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I thought that’s where the rust would be, to be honest, not having pressure around him. But handled it very well. Penalty kill is one of his fortes -obviously delivered there, solid defensively. Very pleased with his game.”

With Kevan Miller still sidelined with an illness, McQuaid will be back in the lineup tonight against the New York Islanders. The 31-year-old played 15 minutes, 12 seconds versus the Habs and logged a team-high four shots on goal and two hits, while playing alongside Matt Grzelcyk on Boston’s third pairing.

“Not too bad. I wasn’t sure what to expect, just went with the first shift and then the second and just went down from there,” said McQuaid. “I wanted to try to keep things really simple. Grizz made life pretty easy to play with – he played really well. All the guys did, so it was nice to be back, be a part of the win. I’m happy to be back.”

During the defenseman’s absence, Cassidy spoke on numerous occasions about how valuable McQuaid is on the kill and he showed why against Montreal. McQuaid logged 1:34 on the kill, all of which came during the Canadiens’ unsuccessful 5-on-3 bid midway through the second period.

“I was a little tired,” McQuaid said with a laugh. “I tried my best not to overstay or overextend my shifts, I didn’t have much choice in that case. I felt that one a little bit…I think guys thrive off of wanting to kill that and be in those situations. Even though I was a little winded at the end of it, it was a good feeling for sure.”

McQuaid’s strong work in the D-zone also led to the deciding goal. After rubbing out Jacob de la Rose along the left wall, the puck squirted to Jake DeBrusk, leading to a rush up ice that resulted in Ryan Spooner’s backhanded tally that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

“It goes without saying that I was looking forward to getting back out there,” said McQuaid. “A few nerves [before the game], just settled into the game…it felt good just to be a part of the win.

“As fun as it has been to watch the guys win and when you’re actually on the ice and on the bench and a part of the battle it’s that much more gratifying.”

Captain Iron Man

Like McQuaid, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill against the Canadiens. Chara logged 2:25 of shorthanded ice time on Wednesday, including a consecutive stretch of 4:18 before and through Charlie McAvoy’s holding penalty. It is just the type of situation that the 40-year-old thrives on.

“It’s something that we feel that the guys that are on the ice, that’s our job to prevent them from getting a goal,” said Chara. “For the most part, I thought we did a really good job of keeping them on the outside…at that point in the game it was a turning point, they could easily get two goals and that would be a different story.

“That’s my job and that’s our job to make sure we do our best to prevent that…I was tired but nothing that didn’t happen before…it takes some energy out of you, but at the same time, that’s my job and I train to do that.

“Those are the times and moments where I absolutely love to be on the ice. Whatever the team needs, I’m willing to give.”

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Brad Marchand knows he was not always the easiest person to deal with when he first entered the league. As a young player, there were plenty of times he needed to be reeled in as he tried to establish himself.

That’s where Claude Julien came in.

“He gave me an opportunity to play, dealt with me more than I think a lot of coaches would have, worked with me tirelessly,” Marchand said of the former Bruins coach. “Had plenty of conversations about how to act and how to be a good player, a good pro, how to learn the game and become a better player.

“He definitely gave me a huge opportunity and allowed me to grow into a better player.”

Across the Bruins dressing room, players shared similar stories regarding the impact Julien had on their careers. And that’s why it is sure to be a special moment when Julien – the Bruins’ all-time winningest coach – returns to Boston for the first time on Wednesday night when the B’s host his Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

“He’s the one that I was given the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said David Pastrnak. “We had a bunch of meetings in the time I was here…obviously have a lot of good memories. He spent so much time with this organization and has given a lot.”

Marchand credited Julien with helping him to become more of a dependable offensive force every night. The 29-year-old began his career in as a fourth-line grinder and has since blossomed into a two-time All-Star, who is well on his way to a third straight 35-goal season.

“You could go through a lot of different things, but the biggest thing he preached to me was how to be a good pro and how to be consistent,” said Marchand. “That’s one thing we talked about is consistency. And if you want to be in this league for a long time you have to be able to bring your best game every night or close to it. That was probably one of the biggest things I took away.”

Julien won 419 games over 10 seasons with Boston, twice leading the team to the Stanley Cup Final, including the club’s first title in 39 years in 2011. Overall, the Bruins made the playoffs seven times under Julien and captured the Presidents’ Trophy in 2014.

The Ontario native also won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s coach of the year in 2009 and twice coached at the NHL All-Star Game during his time in Boston.

“He was here for a long time, did a lot of great things for this team, for the organization, for the community and for the fans,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who played under Julien for 10 seasons.

“He definitely should be recognized for that…he’s a great coach, a great person, taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way in certain situations. He’s just a great teacher.”

For Boston’s remaining championship core – which includes Marchand, Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Adam McQuaid – it will no doubt be a bit strange to see their former boss standing behind the visiting bench on Wednesday night.

“I’m sure there is going to be some emotion for them,” said current Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Julien last February. “They won a Stanley Cup under Claude – there should be. I think there was a bit of that in Montreal in terms of the first time looking across the bench and seeing him behind a different group, and I would imagine there would be a little more tomorrow. Then, the game will kind of take care of itself, and off we go.

“There’s some great relationships developed between Claude with the guys that have played with him for a length of time, so you don’t forget about that.”

Cassidy, who was an assistant under Julien last season before taking over the reins, acknowledged that some of his predecessor’s philosophies remain in place, particularly on the defensive side of things.

“The biggest was probably the layers and D-zone,” said Cassidy. “I think there’s a lot of teams that go man-to-man nowadays in the NHL in D-zone. We haven’t changed, and we feel it’s worked very well for us to stay with our layers and our zone coverage. I would say that is probably the biggest thing because it has worked.”

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Greg Wyshynski, senior writer: Maybe it’s because I recently watched “I, Tonya,” but I’ve been thinking about how the Calder Trophy race is one whose winner has both on-ice achievement and aesthetics. Where the top candidates not only have the numbers, but also the style points.

To that end: New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal is Nancy Kerrigan in this season’s race. He’s a Canadian kid with a junior hockey pedigree, so the judges already love him. He’s a point-per-game player. I watched him tally his second five-point game of the season on Saturday, this time against the rival New York Rangers. He owns the highlight reel, scoring and creating goals with a flourish that other rookies in the competition simply don’t have. Like Kerrigan, there are times when it seems like Barzal was created in a lab in a test tube labeled “CALDER WINNER.”

And then we have Vancouver Canucks winger Brock Boeser. He’s a Minnesota kid who played hockey at North Dakota. He doesn’t have Barzal’s points, but he’s the only rookie to crack 20 goals this season, with 22 through Sunday. He also doesn’t have Barzal’s highlight reel, unless you have an affinity for wicked shots on goal. He plays in Vancouver rather than in the northeastern United States, which is the hockey media equivalent of sewing your own sequins on your competition outfit.

But here’s why I put Tonya … er … Boeser ahead of Barzal right now: His 22 goals have come during a season in which his linemates were all sorts of injured: His center, Bo Horvat, hasn’t played since Dec. 5. Boeser plays top-line minutes against top-line defenses — there’s no John Tavares to attract the opponents’ top checking lines. He’s on pace to have one of the best goal-scoring rookie seasons of the past decade, even if that pace has slowed just a tad.

At this point, Boeser would get my vote for the Calder. So please, Brock, no need for a Tonya/Nancy sabotage plot. Even if, you know, it would be totally expected behavior in hockey were it to happen on the ice.

(Now, watch Charlie McAvoy play the role of Oksana Baiul and spoil this whole thing — right, Emily?)

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Defensemen rarely win the Calder Trophy. In the past 30 years, just five blueliners have been selected. (Aaron Ekblad, Tyler Myers, Barret Jackman, Bryan Berard and Brian Leetch, for you trivia nuts at home.)

The award usually goes to a precocious forward who puts up a bunch of points, foreshadowing a flashy career. Every once in a while, it goes to a goalie who stands on his head for his team. But defensemen? It’s not just that it’s harder to quantify success for D-men — it is — but it’s also a position that requires more development. It’s full of nuance and responsibility; defensemen just bloom later.

That’s why what 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy is doing in Boston is so impressive.

McAvoy leads all rookies in ice time (22:51), and it’s not really close. He skates with Zdeno Chara on the Bruins’ top pairing, meaning he’s assigned to the most dangerous lines in the league every night. And he’s handling it with grace. Watch a Boston game and you’ll see how smooth McAvoy is. He is rarely frazzled when he has the puck. He’s able to deliver big hits. But more important, he’s usually in the right spots.

He’s also a big part of Boston’s offense, tied for fifth on the team with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists). Since Victor Hedman will miss the All-Star Game because of injury, McAvoy has a strong case to be the Atlantic Division’s replacement. Heck, if NHL players were going to the Olympics this year, McAvoy would be a tough cut for Team USA.

McAvoy’s importance to the Bruins cannot be understated. This is a team that is attempting to pull off a delicate balancing act: rebuilding while also somehow contending. McAvoy is the bridge between now and the future.

As NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty pointed out, McAvoy played 45 games last year between Boston University, the AHL and his playoff cameo with the Bruins. It was the most games he’d ever played in a season. As this season passes the halfway mark, we’ll see if McAvoy can keep pace. If he does, he unequivocally deserves this award.

Chris Peters: If the vote were today, I don’t think there’s any doubt who would be the top three vote-getters. McAvoy has a great case, especially as laid out by Emily. As worthy as he is, however, it’s going to be hard for him to collect the necessary votes against a pair of forwards putting up the kind of numbers Boeser and Barzal are right now.

The debate between these guys could go back and forth for hours, and I’ll be doing a deeper dive into the rookie race very soon. For some additional context on how special their seasons have been to this point — with Barzal at 44 games played and Boeser at 42 — their production at this point in the season has them in a pretty exclusive class. According to hockey-reference.com’s Play Index, only three rookies have produced more points through their team’s first 44 games or fewer since 2005-06: Alex Ovechkin (58), Sidney Crosby (49) and Evgeni Malkin (45). As Greg noted above, Barzal has 44 points and Boeser has 40.

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The Bruins made sure to kick off their season series against Montreal with a bang on Saturday night.

David Krejci tied the game late in the second period, before Brad Marchand scored in the fourth round of the shootout to send Boston to a 4-3 victory over the rival Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The win extended the Bruins’ points streak to 12 games (9-0-3) and their overall record since Nov. 16 to 18-3-3.

“We seem to be able to show that character. We seem to have a lot of it in this room,” said Marchand, who also potted his 18th goal of the season in the first period. “It was great to see the guys battle back, especially having a bit of a break there – we didn’t have a great game. But we dug down and capitalized when it mattered. Good to get the two points.”

Boston twice came back from one-goal deficits to tie the game. After Max Pacioretty opened the scoring just 3:22 into the first, Marchand responded with a power-play goal off a slick feed from Patrice Bergeron with 2:20 remaining in the opening frame.

“We didn’t have our game early in terms of managing the puck. I think we were still on that little bit of a break mode where you’re not bearing down and not hockey strong yet,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “But we got better at that as the game went on. But we did enough early to not take ourselves out of the game.”

Jake DeBrusk later converted on a breakaway with a snipe over the blocker of Carey Price at 2:55 of the second. But Montreal answered with two goals (from Nicolas Deslauriers and Alex Galchenyuk) just 3:06 apart to regain the lead, 3-2, midway through the period.

But the Bruins stormed back once again. With 2:18 to go in the second, David Krejci struck for his seventh of the year when he picked up a bouncing puck in the slot and snapped one by Price to knot things at 3.

“We were trailing a couple times tonight. Against Montreal in Montreal, it’s tough to come back from,” said DeBrusk. “But we have great leadership with our older guys and the veterans here really show us the way and how to get back. It was a team effort. Lots of guys did things to help us win tonight.”

Montreal nearly ended things with some 20 seconds remaining in overtime, but stellar sprawling saves from Tuukka Rask and Torey Krug kept the Bruins alive. As time ticked away, Krug swatted away a loose puck in the crease, before Rask dived through the blue paint to deny Tomas Plekanec’s follow-up attempt.

“We got better throughout the 60 minutes,” said Rask, who extended his personal points streak to 14 games (12-0-2). “It wasn’t our best start, best first period. But we hung in there…I don’t think anyone was rattled. We were just trying to play our game.”

More observations from the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens:

Bruins send thoughts to Danault: In a frightening scene late in the second period, Montreal forward Phillip Danault was struck in the head with a Zdeno Chara slapshot. Danault was down on the ice for several minutes before being stretchered off and transported to a local hospital, where the Canadiens said he was awake and moving.

With 1:37 remaining in the second, the teams retreated to the dressing rooms and played the rest of the frame following the intermission.

“I was hoping that he was not hurt,” said Chara. “That’s obviously the first thought that goes through my mind…it does happen, it’s just very unfortunate. We all get hit somewhere in the upper body. On that particular play I was getting a pass up the boards and the puck probably was bouncing a little bit, so very unfortunate.

“You don’t ever want to see anyone get hit in the head area or the neck area and being carried off the ice. Hopefully Phillip will have a good recovery…wishing him the best and full recovery.”

Chara was among the last people to leave the ice as he waited until Danault was transported to wish him well.

“I wanted to be there. I wanted to talk to him. I felt bad, obviously, that he got hit,” added Chara. “I wanted to make sure he was OK and he responded…he was talking to me and responded, so that made me feel better that he responded and he was OK…I was glad he was doing OK.”

DeBrusk makes most of Montreal debut: DeBrusk took full advantage of his first trip to the Bell Centre for Bruins-Habs. The rookie winger potted a filthy breakaway tally early in the second period to give Boston a 2-1 lead, before notching another goal in the second round of the shootout.

“It’s pretty special. [Carey Price is] one of the best goaltenders in the game. You don’t get chances like that very often,” said DeBrusk. “Obviously a shootout’s a shootout, but it was nice to see those go in. It was one of those things that he’s a pretty intimidating goalie to play against and you’ve got to bring your best.

“Obviously I got lucky tonight and I think that it was just how the game was going….two breakaways and something that I’ll never forget.”

Bruins downplay showdown with Julien: While Saturday night’s matchup marked the first between the Bruins and former coach Claude Julien, the players chose to focus more on what was happening on the ice than the storylines off of it.

“I was playing against the Montreal Canadiens, not against Claude,” said Chara. “We all know that these games are big games and they mean a lot.”

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The Boston Bruins and the Boston Bruins Foundation announced today, January 11, the first annual Patrice Bergeron & 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Pucks and Paddles, which will be held at Royale Boston (279 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116) on Thursday, February 15 from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. The tournament will feature players from the active Boston Bruins roster, on-air personalities from 98.5 The Sports Hub, and patients from Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.

The event will feature a single elimination tournament featuring Bruins players, on air talent and the winning bidders. The rounds will advance to a championship game featuring the final two teams, with a winning tandem being crowned the Patrice Bergeron & 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Pucks and Paddles champions. In addition, the four best Bruins ping pong players will participate in a separate informal singles competition to demonstrate their talents to the crowd. All attendees upon arrival will have the opportunity to purchase an entry into a raffle to participate in additional ping pong games against select players.

Fans have the opportunity to bid on the opportunity to play doubles ping pong with the celebrity of their choice. Fans can place their bids by visiting bruinsauctions.org.

Fans can purchase tickets for both the VIP and General Admission sessions by visiting bostonbruins.com/pingpong.

VIP attendees will enjoy a pre-event meet & greet with members of the team. When purchasing VIP tickets, guests will either choose to be a part of the Gold VIP session featuring Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug and David Krejci or the Black VIP session featuring Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, David Backes, and David Pastrnak .

Tickets will be available to the general public on January 11. Prices are as follows:

VIP: $200 – includes admission to autograph session

GA: $50 – entrance into the event (no player access)

Bruins season ticket holders will have exclusive early access to purchase tickets on January 10 and be able to purchase tickets at a discounted rate:

VIP: $175 – includes admission to autograph session

GA: $40 – entrance into the event

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If the Bruins want inspiration for a potential Stanley Cup run, they need look no further than the Nashville Predators last season.

Look, it’s not a perfect comparison. The Predators had a better blue line. They have a better coach. But both teams are regular-season possession monsters. Both teams are powered by a dominant top line that can flat-out take over games — Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have combined for seven goals at 5-on-5 and having given up one. Which is pretty good.

Both teams have a supporting cast at forward that’s a combination of veterans and dynamic younger players. For the Bruins, that means guys like center David Krejci playing with guys like Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk.

But what the Predators had last season that the Bruins aren’t sure they’ll have: a veteran goalie who finds another level early in the playoffs and wins rounds for his team. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne went from a .918 save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against in the regular season to a .930 and a 1.96 in the postseason. He started the playoffs with back-to-back shutouts. He won seven of first eight postseason starts.

Tuukka Rask has a .913 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average this season. His career playoff numbers have been quite good: .928 and a 2.12, respectively. But for the Bruins to make a serious run at the Cup, he needs to dominate the early rounds and give his team some solid defensive footing on which to climb through the conference. Especially when it appears they could open the playoffs against Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Emily Kaplan: If the Bruins play like they did in a 7-2 throttling of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, no doubt about it. Pencil these guys into the Eastern Conference finals right now. But that’s just one game of evidence, of course. Let’s look at a larger sample size.

First, the positives: Charlie McAvoy is a revelation. The 19-year-old defenseman is every bit as good as advertised, handling hefty minutes (23-plus a game) against tough assignments, producing offensively (18 points in 31 games) and showing some grit, too. (I’m not just talking about his fight on Monday.) The Bruins also have what could be the league’s best line outside of Vladislav Namestnikov-Nikita Kucherov-Steven Stamkos. Yes, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak — the Bruins’ top three point-scorers — are that dominant.

The problem here is depth. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy still doesn’t know who to play with David Krejci, and that’s an issue. The young kids (Bjork and DeBrusk) are working through rookie growing pains. And the least-fun topic to bring up in Boston: Rask may have lost a step. Hey, that can all be solved if the veteran goalie only faces 18 shots a night while his team fires off 45 … like it did against Columbus.

I think the most emblematic game for this team was its performance last Saturday against the Rangers. The Bruins fell two goals behind, and then looked damn impressive storming back against a locked-in Henrik Lundqvist to tie and earn a point. Ultimately, a mental lapse — a bad line change that yielded too many men in overtime — did the Bruins in. This is a team that has stumbled early and has enough talent to scare some teams down the stretch, but there are too many holes in the Bruins’ lineup for them to finish off teams come playoff time.

Chris Peters: I don’t think they have enough to make a Cup run, especially with the competition being what it is in the East right now. If the Bruins can get past the Lightning in the Atlantic portion of the playoffs — a huge if — they would still have to overtake any one of the teams from the loaded Metropolitan to reach the Cup Final. As Emily notes, depth is an issue — and it’s unlikely Boston can keep pace with the scoring attacks it would have to go head-to-head with, even if it did just drop seven on the Blue Jackets. The Bruins are looking more and more comfortable as a playoff team, but it’s harder to see them taking that leap to Cup contender.

The 2017-18 season, however, is a key building-block year as the Bruins look to recover from some of the salary-cap issues left by former GM Peter Chiarelli. This season appears to be a significant step forward for a number of reasons. McAvoy looking like the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara as the team’s No. 1 defenseman is a huge development, but the Bruins are going to need a lot more than one player to fill the roles previously held by veterans. A lot of young players are getting significant reps with the big club. It’s an important development season for those players, as Boston keeps building a secondary core of young players to support the existing veterans — like Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and Rask — who have meant so much to the organization.

Pastrnak is still only 21, which makes him the centerpiece of the young core. McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are in there, too. Meanwhile, Danton Heinen has sneaked up to third in points per game among rookies, trailing only Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal, at 0.78. DeBrusk had the best night of his young career against Columbus and now has 17 points in 27 games. Boston has used 10 players aged 24 or younger this season and has a decently-stocked prospect pipeline, with some more talent to follow.

There may be a little more uncertainty in the coming years as some of the other veterans move on or decline, but the Bruins can start feeling pretty good about their future. To be playing as well as they have been this season is simply an added bonus.

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Paul Postma understands his role. As Boston’s seventh defenseman for much of this season, it’s been the veteran blue liner’s job to be prepared when called upon.

So despite having played just once over Boston’s last eight games, the 28-year-old is more than ready to return to action tonight against the Red Wings.

“That’s why you play the game and love it. You look forward to every chance you get to play,” said Postma, who has suited up for 11 games this season. “I think the hardest thing for me is more of a mental game than a physical game, just making sure that I’m ready mentally to go.”

Postma will be sliding in alongside Matt Grzelcyk on the B’s third pairing in place of Kevan Miller. Miller will miss the game in Detroit after he and his wife, Haley, welcomed their first child late Tuesday night back in Boston.

“Mom and the baby are doing very well – healthy,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Kevan is going to stay behind and hopefully will join us tomorrow. He’s a happy man right now. Didn’t get any sleep last night, so we figured for everyone’s sake let’s let him enjoy his moment.”

Postma, who has not played since Nov. 29 against Tampa Bay when the Bruins dressed seven defensemen, will be trying to keep it simple against the Red Wings.

“Don’t overthink things out there, just do what comes naturally to me and try to get pucks on net when I can,” said Postma. “My skill is skating and trying to jump up in the rush, I’m going to do that as much as I can.”

Cassidy has been pleased with that portion of Postma’s game to this point, but would like to see the blue liner be a bit more aggressive at the Bruins’ end of the rink.

“The biggest thing we’ve asked Paul to do is get up and play more of our style, where you’re up closing your gaps and confronting and denying entry at the blue line with those things,” said Cassidy.

“It’s maybe a change for him from previously. But at the end of the day, that’s one area we want to be better at and recognize and build into his game.”

Spooner Still Sidelined

Per Cassidy, Ryan Spooner is still not ready to return to the lineup and will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury.

“We’re going to wait that one out to be sure,” said Cassidy. “We’re never going to be 100 percent sure, but we just want to give it as much time as possible. He’s still day-to-day and we’ll look at tomorrow after tonight’s game.”

Counter Punch

Detroit has lost nine of its last 10 (1-5-4), but Cassidy is not overlooking the skill and speed the Red Wings present up front. Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Larkin paces the Wings with 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games this season.

“They’re a good team, they’ve played better than their record indicates lately,” said Cassidy. “They’ve got a good group of forwards that play fast. If you’re not controlling your gaps and letting them behind you it’s going to be a tough night for us.

“We’ve got to make sure that we counter that with good checking position and puck possession, force them to defend us so that they’re not always on the attack. That’s going to be our game plan tonight and let’s hope we can execute it.”

Where the Pizza At?

The Bruins are making their inaugural regular-season visit to Little Caesar’s Arena, which replaced the famed Joe Louis Arena at the start of this year. The new digs are quite impressive, but there won’t be any real adjustments to be made on the Bruins’ end.

“It’s a nice building, very nicely done and beautiful place,” said Zdeno Chara. “The plan is the same, we’ve got to come out and focus on yourself and play your game.”

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Jake DeBrusk has never been considered your average goal scorer. His abilities range far beyond what a typical top-six winger usually provides.

Among those attributes is a bit of an ornery side. And for the first time in his young career, the full wrath of that side came out during the second period of the Bruins’ 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

After Casey Cizikas delivered a heavy hit on Charlie McAvoy by the Islanders bench in the second period, DeBrusk took exception, stepping in and dropping the gloves for his first career fight. The former first-round pick was issued an instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct for his efforts and was forced to watch most of the second period from the Bruins dressing room as he served his 17-minute banishment.

When DeBrusk returned, the more traditional side of his game shone through, too. On his first shift after the penalty, the 21-year-old delivered with a spin-o-rama snipe from the slot for what proved to be the deciding goal.

It was a sequence that could prove to be a defining one for the rookie.

“He comes through there and he sticks up for his teammate, that shows a lot,” said Bruins alternate captain David Backes. “Then to capitalize on a goal after not playing for 17 minutes – I was asking if he jumped on a bike there in the second period or what to keep going, because I know that can be a tough thing to get your feet back under you and get up to speed again.

“He made good of that opportunity and it ends up being the game-winning goal. Two points for us and that’s what we we’re looking for.”

DeBrusk has never been shy to drop the gloves. The 6-foot, 183-pounder fought five times over three seasons in the WHL and twice more with Providence last season. Despite being known more for his offensive prowess, DeBrusk’s rough-and-tumble side is no surprise given the fact that his father, Louie, was once one of the NHL’s premier tough guys – fighting 115 times over his 11-year career.

“It really showed that he’s a great teammate,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “You don’t have to be a big guy to drop gloves and stand up for your teammate and he did. Good for him, he showed a lot of character in that act. He did pretty well. Obviously the toughness is something he has in his family. It’s a great sign of being part of a good team.”

DeBrusk, who had zero career penalty minutes before the fight, said he believed Cizikas’ hit on McAvoy was clean, but felt it was important to stand up for his fellow rookie.

“I think it was a clean hit, it was just a really hard one and I didn’t like it…I verbally asked him if he wanted to go and he said yes and he dropped his gloves, so that’s how it happened,” said DeBrusk. “It was a bit of a different scenario, to say the least. It was something that happened, and I honestly didn’t try to get an instigator or anything like that.”

It was the type of penalty that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was happy to live with.

“I think it’s good for his teammates to know that he’s going to get in there, whether people think it’s right or wrong…he’s in there looking after one of his teammates, so guys appreciate that,” said Cassidy. “At that time and juncture in the game, I think everyone’s fine with it and it will help him in the room.”

Nevertheless, DeBrusk wanted to make up for having to spend 17 minutes in the dressing room. With plenty of jump in his step, DeBrusk returned in the third period and took advantage on his first shift.

“I watched the period in here and just felt a little out of sorts and just wanted to get back in action and make the first shift a good one. Was lucky enough to cash in on a goal,” said DeBrusk.

The tally was a shining example of DeBrusk’s scoring touch. The winger picked up a bouncing puck off a pass from Torey Krug and made his way to the slot, where he spun and fired a blistering wrister by Jaroslav Halak with 13:15 remaining to build a 2-0 lead.

“I just wanted to get the puck on net. I was kind of trying to honestly generate maybe a rebound,” said DeBrusk. “It was kind of a weird play…I didn’t really know where the net was. I kind of had an idea, but I just turned and just shot as hard as I could and it went in.

“It was nice to see that and obviously missing a whole period and then coming back, it was huge.”

It was a look into what could be a very bright future. And a sequence that his teammates certainly won’t forget.

“I thought it was great to see him stepping up for Chuckie there and then getting that goal,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He was in the penalty box for a while and sometimes your legs can get stiff and cold, and he didn’t miss a beat. Then he was ready for when he got a tap on the back, and came back on the ice.

“It was a huge goal for us. We needed that. So kudos to him for stepping up and making those two big plays.”