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Panthers eyeing Atlantic lead vs. Bruins

Florida needs one point to jump ahead of Tampa Bay in division; Boston's Rask questionable

by Matt Kalman / NHL.com Correspondent

PANTHERS (40-24-9) at BRUINS (39-27-8)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; FS-F, NESN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV

BOSTON -- The Florida Panthers can re-take the Atlantic Division lead when they play the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday.

The Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have 89 points. The Panthers have lost two straight games (0-2-0), but with the Lightning idle on Thursday the Panthers have a chance to move ahead of them.

The Bruins, who have lost four straight (0-4-0), are third in the division with 86 points, can get within one of the Panthers and Lightning with a victory. The Bruins also are three points ahead of the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings, who play the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, RDS, SNE, FS-D)

"For me there's two desperate teams tonight," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "We haven't played well lately. We lost a couple games in a row. Boston's had a real tough road trip playing against real good teams and lost. So it should be a good battle tonight. Two teams looking for points."

Florida hasn't fared well in Boston, losing nine straight games (0-8-1) since its last win, a 2-0 victory Dec. 8, 2011. One Panthers player that knows what it takes to win at TD Garden is former Boston forward Reilly Smith, who was traded to Florida last summer.

"I wasn't really aware of that," Smith said of the Panthers' losing streak in Boston. "It's been such a long time since the Florida Panthers have won in this building. We're coming off a couple tough games and we'd like to jump back into that winning column. Obviously they played last night so we've got to take advantage of that tonight."

Boston, which lost 5-2 at the New York Rangers on Wednesday, did not hold a morning skate Thursday.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask left the game after the first period and was replaced by Jonas Gustavsson. Rask missed practice Tuesday but took the morning skate in New York.

"He was feeling great. He had the morning skate. He said he was ready to go," Bruins coach Claude Julien told the Boston Herald after the game Wednesday. "It's just at the end of the first period it turned the other way around so we decided to make the safe and the right call."

There was no update on Rask's condition Thursday morning.

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith

Jiri Hudler - Nick Bjugstad - Teddy Purcell

Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Shawn Thornton

Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad

Brian Campbell - Alex Petrovic

Jakub Kindl - Steven Kampfer

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Injured: Erik Gudbranson (foot), Derek MacKenzie (lower body), Willie Mitchell (lower body), Dave Bolland (lower body)

Scratched: Quinton Howden, Logan Shaw

BRUINS

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Lee Stempniak

Frank Vatrano - David Krejci - Loui Eriksson

Matt Beleskey - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak

Landon Ferraro - Noel Acciari - Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara - Kevan Miller

John-Michael Liles - Dennis Seidenberg

Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid

Tuukka Rask

Jonas Gustavsson

Injured: Chris Kelly (broken femur)

Scratched: Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, Tyler Randell, Brett Connolly

Status report: Mitchell skated with the Panthers in his continued attempt to return from injury. ... Connolly has been scratched the past two games but might get back in as the Bruins try to find the right combination of forwards to solve their offensive woes. The Bruins have scored five goals in the past four games.

Who's hot: Hudler has two goals and two assists during a four-game point streak. ... Vatrano, who was recalled from Providence of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, scored Wednesday. He leads the AHL with 33 goals in 33 games.

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