LIGHTNING (9-10-1) at BRUINS (13-2-2)
TV: SUN, NESN
Last 10: Tampa Bay 3-6-1, Boston 8-1-1
Season series: Second meeting of three, and the first to be held in TD Garden -- the Lightning was scheduled to play in Boston on Feb. 9, but the game was postponed until April 25 by the blizzard that covered the city. The teams met at Tampa Bay on Feb. 21, a 4-2 Bruins win that was the second of Boston's current five-game winning streak. They also hold a four-game regular-season home winning streak over the Bolts dating back to their last loss on March 25, 2010. Since the 2005-06 season, the Bruins are 11-3-0 against the Lightning at home, and the Lightning have only five wins in its 41 visits to Boston.
Big story: It's often said that games in hand mean nothing unless you win them, and the Bruins have set out to prove that adage, staying a point behind the Northeast Division-leading Montreal Canadiens despite playing three fewer games and a point ahead of the Ottawa Senators, who are four games ahead in the schedule. The pace will pick up for the Bruins with 17 games in March, at the end of which all three will be within a game of each other.
Meanwhile, the Lightning have taken advantage of the collective mediocrity in the middle of the Eastern Conference, residing only two points behind first-place Carolina and Winnipeg in the Southeast Division and two out of the eighth seed, despite losing seven of their last 10. They've survived on the most prolific offense in the NHL at 71 goals, one ahead of Pittsburgh and seven ahead of the next team behind, while allowing 64, third-most in the League. This is the second of a four-game trip that began unceremoniously with a 4-1 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Lightning: Several players called it "embarrassing." After outshooting the Lightning 35-11 in the first two periods, the Rangers were able to cruise to a 4-1 win and stop their own four-game losing streak. The Lightning allowed a season-high 20 shots to the Rangers in the first, and could do little to contain Rick Nash, who took 12 shots of his own on a three-point night. They did turn things up in the third period, but Henrik Lundqvist stoned Steven Stamkos with a pair of highlight-reel saves, keeping the Rangers in control.
"Just not ready to play," coach Guy Boucher said of his team's play. "For two periods there was no opposition for the other team. … Couldn't make a pass, guys falling everywhere, lost the battles."
"It's getting to a point where it's embarrassing," Stamkos said. "We talk about work ethic, but it's not there right now. Guys aren't making plays. … There's enough talking going on. We need action."
Bruins: The one thing the Bruins didn't do Thursday night was cruise. Coming home with four straight road wins in their pocket, they had to face the equally hot Senators, winners of five in a row themselves, and the Senators made the Bruins earn the points. Patrice Bergeron's tip-in of a Dennis Seidenberg shot at 3:38 of overtime gave the Bruins the 2-1 win.
"We're obviously happy that we found a way, but we're not satisfied that's for sure," Bergeron said. "It could have been a lot better, and I think Ottawa played a great game and kept us to the outside, but still, for us, we need to work harder to get to the front and to get to the loose pucks and to rebounds."
Who's hot: Stamkos picked up an assist Thursday to give him points in eight straight games, but the lack of a goal stopped that streak at six. He leads the NHL with 14 goals and is tied for the points lead with Sidney Crosby at 31. Martin St. Louis is second in the NHL to Crosby in assists with 20.
While the Bruins are off to their best 17-game start since 1929-30, they've compiled some interesting numbers. First, they are the only team in the NHL not to have scored a power-play goal at home (0-for-26), but they're third-best in the NHL at home on the penalty kill at 89.7 percent, a factor that contributes to their 5-1-1 record at TD Garden. Overall, they had put together a streak of 27 consecutive penalty kills that ended on Jim O'Brien's goal in the second period Thursday, which helped propel the PK to the top of the League at 93.9 percent. Bergeron's goal gave him seven points in his last five games. While not as amazing as last season, the Bruins continue to look impressive in the plus/minus column, with Tyler Seguin (plus-13) third in the NHL and Bergeron (plus-12) seventh.
Injury report: Lightning defenseman Sami Salo (lower body) did not play Thursday and is still considered day-to-day. Same applies for forward Ryan Malone (lower body) but he hopes to return sometime during the road trip. … One important reason for the Bruins' success is that they remain healthy.
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