It took four seconds for Ethan Bear to introduce himself to Brad Marchand this season.
The Carolina Hurricanes were hosting the Boston Bruins in a late-October game at PNC Arena. On the opening draw, Patrice Bergeron won it for the Bruins, passed to Marchand in the neutral zone and ... bam, down went Marchand.
Bear, traded to Carolina in the offseason, had Canes fans on their feet and roaring with the big hit on Marchand, the Bruins’ resident “bad boy.” The defenseman had quickly set the tone for the game, which the Hurricanes won 3-0 as goalie Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots for his 20th career shutout.
The Canes were 6-0, a franchise-record start to the season, after that win. The Bruins were a middling 3-3.
As the two teams go at it again Tuesday in Boston — Carolina’s first road game in 36 days — much has changed for the Bruins. They’ve won their past five games and eight of their past 10, climbing up the standings in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division with a 22-11-2 record. The Canes are 25-8-2, second in the Metro Division.
“Early on, there was a lot of work to do in getting to know everyone and meshing together and finding chemistry,” Bergeron said Saturday after the Bruins’ 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators. “Maybe it took a little longer than expected, but at the same time I think it’s not a bad thing to go through adversity when it’s early in the year.”
The Bruins, just as the Canes, have had COVID issues — defenseman Matt Grzelcyk recently was placed in the NHL protocol. There also was the matter of getting goalie Tuukka Rask, a free agent, signed and playing, which the Bruins have now done.
Canes defenseman Jaccob Slavin return to practice Monday after coming off the COVID list. After missing two games, he’ll be back in the lineup and paired with Tony DeAngelo while also joining DeAngelo in quarterbacking power-play units.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday. “We sorely miss him when he’s out and probably take for granted a little bit when he’s in there. But it’s nice to have him rejoin us.”
While Slavin is back, Martin Necas now is out. The winger was placed in COVID protocol on Monday, two days after being the game’s first star as the Canes topped the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Saturday.
Necas’ line was pretty dynamic in the game as Necas and center Vincent Trocheck each had a goal and assist and winger Andrei Svechnikov two assists.
“Saturday was his best game in a while,” Brind’Amour said of Necas. “Looked like they were clicking on all cylinders and obviously this is going to be a big setback. Hopefully we get through it and he doesn’t miss too much action. It’s too bad because that line looked pretty good.”
Marchand, playing his best hockey of the season, was named Monday as the NHL’s first star of the week after scoring six goals and adding four assists in four games last week.
Marchand has had multi-point outings in five straight games and nine goals in his last six games. He should go into Tuesday’s game — the first between the Canes and Bruins at TD Garden since Dec. 3, 2019 — still mindful of that Bear hit in October but more so of the Bruins being shut out by Andersen, who should be the Canes starter Tuesday.
Slavin likely will be matched up against the Bergeron line or against a line centered by Erik Haula that has Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak on the wings.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Slavin said Monday. “But we’ve got a D corps that can skate, that’s smart, that can handle it. We look forward to it. At the end of the day we’ve got to shut ‘em down and we’ll try to do our job.”
Bear was not in the Canes lineup Saturday, sitting out as a healthy scratch, and was working on the fourth D pair Monday in practice. He was replaced Saturday by defenseman Joey Keane, a callup from the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
The Canes’ aggressiveness didn’t wane in Saturday’s game, causing Canucks captain Bo Horvat to say the Canes “come at you in waves and seem to be on top of you all the time,” and all four lines were effective for Carolina on Saturday.
“It was a great start by our guys and we just played a physical game,” Svechnikov said.
The Bruins pose a similar challenge. The Bergeron line is dangerous — Marchand scored twice Saturday and Craig Smith had a goal against Nashville. Haula’s line accounted for a goal and three assists.
“You want to have four lines that can go over the boards and create something and contribute offensively and I think that’s the kind of team we are,” Bergeron said after the Preds game. “Everyone is buying in and chipping in and finding ways to contribute.”
Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: TD Garden, Boston.
TV/Radio: Bally Sports South, WCMC-99.9 FM.