LIGHTNING (37-19-7) AT BRUINS (37-19-7)
TV – NHL NETWORK-US (HD), SUN (HD), NESN (HD)
Last 10 – Tampa Bay 5-3-2; Boston 7-3-0
Season series – It’s the fourth and final meeting of the season between two of the three division leaders in the East. Boston lost the first but has won the last two, including an 8-1 rout the last time the Lightning came to Boston on Dec. 2.
Big story – It’s a battle for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference as the red-hot Bruins, winners of six straight, will be rested and waiting for the Lightning, a 2-1 loser in New Jersey on Wednesday..
Lightning -- Tampa Bay is completing a three-game trip after a successful 12-game homestand (7-3-2). The Lightning claimed a 2-1 victory Sunday at Madison Square Garden to complete a season sweep of the New York Rangers despite playing what coach Guy Boucher described as one of their worst games of the season. They weren’t as lucky on Wednesday, losing by the same score to the red-hot Devils, who avenged a 2-1 loss at Tampa last Friday.
“We lost a patience game," coach Guy Boucher said. "We won it back home (last Friday) and lost this one, so it was who was going to make the last mistake and we did … we turned it over and they capitalized on it.
Bruins -- Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was quite active this month, securing the services of offensive defenseman Tomas Kaberle and forwards Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley in trades several days before the Monday deadline. His team has responded well – the three newcomers have played at least 4 games each and none of them have experienced a loss yet.
This will be the first game at home for all three. Boston just completed a perfect 6-0-0 game road trip – its first since February 1972.
“We've done a lot of miles here in the last four days, three games in the last four and coast to coast, and our guys looked a little tired tonight,” Boston coach Claude Julien said after his team defeated Ottawa 1-0 on Tuesday. “But character took over, we persevered and found a way to win.”
Who’s hot -- St. Louis had 13 points during a nine-game streak before being held off the scoresheet on Wednesday. … Linemates Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton had 4 goals each during Boston’s road trip. Backup goalie Tuukka Rask won four times during the trip and allowed just seven goals in those starts.
Injury update -- Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone is out with an abdominal injury and may not be ready until the playoffs. Defenseman Mike Lundin also has an abdominal problem is out indefinitely. .. The Bruins are without top center Marc Savard, who is out for the season with a concussion, and defenseman Andrew Ference, who could miss two weeks with a leg injury.
Stat pack -- The teams have the same number of points (81) but starkly different paths of getting there. Boston leads the Eastern Conference in goal differential (plus-53), which is second only to Vancouver in the NHL. Tampa Bay has scored 187 non-shootout goals and allowed 188. Translation: The Bruins get blown out less, which makes sense considering they have conceded the fewest goals in the League.
Puck drop – Boston’s Tim Thomas is the clear favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, but Rask might be the biggest reason why he’s unlikely to win the Hart. Rask has a .921 save percentage – and at 11th place is the highest-ranked backup in the League in that category. Thomas is also only on pace to play in 57 games this season – no Hart-winning goaltender in the past 60 years has played in fewer than 67.