Bruins center Patrice Bergeron tested the lower-body injury that kept him out of consecutive games against Washington and New Jersey during an abbreviated practice on Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton.
Bergeron emerged from the limited skate feeling self-assured that he would be back on the first line between David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand when the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins (13-3-5) host the suddenly struggling Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday at TD Garden.
“I’m feeling better and progressing well and today was a good skate and it felt pretty good,” said Bergeron. “It’s a minor issue but we want to make sure it doesn’t linger for too long.
“We are being cautious and being 100% before I get back out there.”
Bergeron is rumored to have re-aggravated an ongoing groin issue in a 4-2 win at Toronto on Nov. 15. He missed time in training camp with a groin injury that dated to last year’s playoffs.
Bergeron is a playmaker and a finisher with a defensive bent and serves as the bumper man on the Bruins’ first power-play unit. Bergeron has eight goals and 11 assists in 19 games with a plus-seven.
Coach Bruce Cassidy would like to factor Bergeron’s attributes into the team’s game plan against the Sabres but wouldn’t fully commit to his availability.
“He is still a go and I assume he is going to play Thursday,” said Cassidy. “I don’t know and I thought last (Tuesday) night he was close, so I’m going to put him in the same (probable) category.”
Center David Krejci, who filled in for Bergeron against the Caps and Devils, will return to the second line with left wing Jake DeBrusk and either Danton Heinen or Brett Ritchie on the right side. Charlie Coyle is back centering the third line with Anders Bjork on the left flank and either Heinen or Ritchie on the right side.
Cassidy said Tuukka Rask, who is 9-2-2 with a 2.06 goals against average and .930 save percentage, will start in goal against the Sabres. Cassidy hopes to have injured defenseman and power-play quarterback Torey Krug (upper body) back for Saturday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild.
There will be four former Boston University Terriers and a Hobey Baker Award winner from Harvard on the ice when the Bruins host the Sabres.
The Bruins cornered the market on BU defensemen with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. The Sabres counter with All-Star center Jack Eichel (13-12-25) with Evan Rodrigues in the middle of the second line. Jimmy Vesey, who copped the Baker Award in 2016, skates right wing on the Sabres’ third line.
“It is always fun to see some familiar faces over there and I’m sure it will be a good game,” said Grzelcyk.
Grzelcyk missed Rodrigues by a year, but he was on first defense with McAvoy for the 2016-17 season. Grzelcyk played one season with Eichel, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 2015.
“Obviously he was unbelievable and it was no surprise that he was a one and done,” said Grzelcyk. “It’s worked out well for him and he’s matured over the years and is now the captain in Buffalo.”
With Krug out of the lineup, Grzelcyk has taken up the firing lane from the point on regular shifts and on the power play. Grzelcyk showed his ability as a playmaker when he set up Coyle for the first goal in the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals.
He came back with the first two-goal game of his career in Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over the Devils. Grzelcyk doesn’t have a high velocity shot from the blue line like Krug and team captain Zdeno Chara, but he can put the puck on goal from the top of the circle.