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Bruins Look to Continue Success Against Lightning

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - The Bruins have won nine straight games against the Tampa Bay Lightning since the 2011-12 season.

They will try for No. 10 on Thursday night, when they host Tampa Bay at TD Garden (7:00 p.m. ET, NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).

The last regular season victory for the Bolts in Boston came back on March 25, 2010, and current Head Coach Jon Cooper hasn't been behind the bench for a win over the Black and Gold.

"I don't know - people have asked me that question all the time, 'Why are you 3-0 against Montreal, but you can't beat Boston?' Yet, Montreal beats Boston all the time. I don't know," said Cooper, who noted pregame that Boston is a team 'who's pretty much playing like they're first in the East.'

"It's the circle of the NHL. No answer for it. Hopefully it ends tonight," he quipped.

The Bruins are hoping otherwise.

Tampa Bay brings plenty of speed and skill as the highest scoring team in the League, having put up 223 goals through 68 games. Boston has consistently been able to shut them down.

It's a matchup to point to, when critics have deemed the Bruins as a team not quick enough to keep up with the skating legs of teams like Tampa Bay, Detroit and Montreal within the division.

"I think it’s just us - I think we’re maybe a little underrated when it comes to people thinking we can’t skate and I think that’s a wrong assessment and we’ve proven it, whether it’s been Chicago or those kind of teams," said Head Coach Claude Julien. "We can skate, and the biggest thing when we struggle against quick teams is because our transition game is poor and we’re just not skating to the areas that we should be skating to."

"It’s more of our game taking a step back versus us not being able to handle it. I think we’re very capable and the guys now like [Ryan] Spooner and [David] Pastrnak, there’s a lot of guys, [Dan] Paille, those guys can all skate."

The Bruins took the first game of the season series, 4-3, at TD Garden back on Jan. 13, with Pastrnak scoring his third and fourth NHL goals, including the game-winner.

"I think we've done a good job with trying to stop their goal scorers," said Daniel Paille. "They can come at you all different ways, with their back end too, so I think for us, it's just key to stay within the way we've been playing in our system."

The Bruins relied too much on Tuukka Rask en route their 3-1 win in Ottawa on Tuesday. Rask will continue to make the key saves, and fatigue likely played a role in the later stages of the game, with the Bruins capping off four games in six nights, but they'll need to fine-tune their defensive zone play if they want to continue their success against the Lightning.

Standings Watch

The Bruins are 5-0-1 in their past six games, with a shootout loss to Calgary the lone one-point game in that stretch. They'll go for their fourth straight win on Thursday against the Lightning. They'll also look to gain ground on the Washington Capitals, who are just four points above them in the standings.

The Caps are in the first Wild Card spot. The Bruins have built themselves a six-point cushion, ahead of the Florida Panthers, are now in chase-mode, instead of just hanging on.

"Everyone knows that it's March and the season's coming to an end soon, and these last three games have definitely felt like a playoff atmosphere," said Paille, in reference to the huge 3-2 overtime win against Philadelphia, 5-3 win over Detroit and Tuesday's 3-1 win in Ottawa.

"The attitude is completely in playoff mode I think and for us, it's important to play like that the rest of the year, because we're playing a lot of teams that not only will be in the playoffs, but teams that are trying to catch us, and we can't afford to take a night off."

Bolts Outlook

The Bolts aren't so focused on finding a way to fight their demons in Boston (though that would be a nice byproduct for them), as they are in playing their best hockey down the stretch.

They picked up an important 1-0 win in overtime in Montreal on Tuesday night, putting out full team effort for their fourth straight win and seventh straight game picking up at least a point. With the victory, they pulled within one point of the first place Habs and New York Rangers.

It was a costly win, as they lost three key players to injuries - trade deadline acquisition Braydon Coburn on the back end (out 4-6 weeks), Ondrej Palat and his 52 points (out 2-3 weeks) and the reliable Cedric Paquette (out 10-14 days). All three were penalty killers, and players relied upon in the final minutes of periods.

"This is a blow, there's no question," said Cooper. " We hit a little adversity but this is a chance for other guys - they've got to step up and take the spot of some guys who are impact players with us."

Ben Bishop is expected between the pipes for Tampa Bay. He has 33 wins this season and is getting close to his own franchise record of 37 wins.

Optional Morning Skate

The Bruins held an optional skate on Thursday morning before hosting the Bolts. It's likely to becoming a customary drill as the month of March moves along.

Rask, Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg were the only Bruins to take the option. Patrice Bergeron went out for a few laps before heading off.

Boston held a short 30-minute practice on Wednesday after coming off four games in six days. They have another stretch of three games in four days on tap, with the Lightning on Thursday, and then a weekend back-to-back in Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

Rest this time of year is key, especially with the Bruins amidst a heavy stretch of games.

"For some reason, we always seem to have a real heavy schedule in March every year," said Julien. "It’s the same thing and now we’re going through that stretch of 11 [games] in 18 days so you've got to make some decisions here and hope that you’re doing the right thing in order to get these guys the best rest possible."

Cooper on Connolly

If all had gone well for the newly acquired Brett Connolly, he could be suiting up against his former team on Thursday night.

When Connolly was acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, the Bruins were excited about a top-six right winger integrating into their lineup. When he suffered a broken finger in his second practice in the Spoked-B, it was disappointing.

Still, whenever Connolly gets his shot in the lineup, he'll make an impact. Cooper, his former coach both at the NHL level and AHL level, is sure of it.

"Boston's getting a - he's a kid that can put the puck in the net, and he's worked really hard to get here," said Cooper. "Especially, his first year he spent in the NHL and then he had to find himself in the minors for a couple of years, so he's kind of fought through it, fought his way, and you know, if he stalled a little bit with us, I think going to a new team was going to be a fresh start for him."

"So you've really got to feel for him, because he's a great kid and I was crushed when I heard that happened to him, because you don't want to see that happen to anybody. But hopefully he's going to find a home here."

Cooper said Connolly's biggest improvement this season had been his work in the defensive zone, learning the League and becoming more of a complete player. With the surplus of forwards in the Bolts' lineup, he had been specifically placed in a defensive role, while still being able to put the puck in the back of the net.

"I'm glad we're not seeing him tonight, to be honest, because it never fails - formers players always seem to land on the scoresheet against me," said Cooper. "As I said, he needed a fresh start and he's going to get one in a great organization."

Krejci Continues Skating

David Krejci skated before the team for the third straight day. The recovery from his knee injury (partial MCL tear in his left knee) hasn't hit the point yet where a return is coming soon. For now, continued skating and conditioning is a good sign, as he is just about three weeks into his timetable of 4-6 weeks.

"He’s still skating on his own. I haven’t been told that he’s ready to join the team yet,but I really don’t know whether he’s on the close side or not," said Julien, when asked if the timetable had changed.

"I think the injury that he has is a hard one to tell because he’s not going to come back at 80 percent at this stage of the year. You want him to be as close to 100 percent as possible with that type of injury. I think it’s important that that happens."

Projected Lineup vs. Tampa Bay March 11

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith

Milan Lucic - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak

Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson

Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Max Talbot

Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton

Matt Bartkowski - Dennis Seidenberg

Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid

Starter: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Niklas Svedberg

Healthy Scratch: Brian Ferlin

Injured: Brett Connolly (finger), David Krejci (MCL), Kevan Miller (shoulder, out for season)

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