No hype for Panthers, but Bitz is pumped
BOSTON -- A visit to TD Garden by the Florida Panthers isn't met with the same hype that comes with Montreal, Toronto, or even Washington.
But to Bruins winger Byron Bitz, the sight of the team from South Florida brings back memories of one of his greatest nights in the NHL thus far. Last Feb. 24 in a 6-1 over the Panthers, Bitz scored twice -- his second and third career goals.
That game was punctuated by an evening-ending chant of "We Want Bitz" by the Garden faithful, who wanted to witness a hat trick.
"I'll always remember that night. It was a fun night and we had a good night and got the win, and it's something that'll stick with me always," Bitz said after Thursday's morning skate in preparation for another matchup with Florida.
Bitz had scored just once in his first 19 games, but he had earned a regular spot in the lineup by bringing the requisite tangibles of a third- or fourth-line player to the table. Despite creating some scoring chances and having little to show for it, Bitz felt his confidence building and that night against the Panthers was a culmination of that process.
"I remember a couple games before that, I was getting chances and I hit the crossbar one night. And I was kind of wondering, maybe one of these nights I'll get some breaks. And I did that night," said Bitz. "So it had been building for a while and that was one of those moments that was definitely a building block."
When the Bruins were completely healthy last spring, including for most of the playoff run, Bitz found himself scratched. This season, he's 14-for-14 as far as playing when healthy (he missed three games because of a groin injury). His confidence is continually on the rise, and you can trace that back to the night last winter when everyone "wanted Bitz."
Judging by the extended time that center Trent Whitfield stayed on the ice after Thursday's skate, it appears rookie Brad Marchand will be back in the lineup and Whitfield will be a healthy scratch against Florida. Tuesday against Pittsburgh, Marchand was relegated to the press box. Coach Claude Julien was quick to defuse the idea that Marchand's two ill-advised third-period penalties against Buffalo had anything to do with the winger's removal from active duty.
"A lot of people seem to think it was a disciplinary reason and it wasn't. That part we've talked about -- that fine line with his edge in regards to getting under players' skins or staying away from being under referees' skins. But that had nothing to do with my decision (Tuesday). It's more about the guy who not only can kill penalties well but can play with more intensity and create and score some goals as well," said the coach. "He's got to have the confidence to bring his whole game to this level here and do it. Sometimes when you let a guy take a step backwards it really helps him progress because he watches from up top and then he comes back and has a better idea what he needs to do the next game."