BRUINS (19-6-3) at SENATORS (16-8-6)
TV: NESN, SNET-E, TVA
Last 10: Boston 5-4-1; Ottawa 4-2-4
Season series: This is the third of five meetings between these Northeast Division rivals. Boston has won the previous two, both in extra time, including a 3-2 shootout victory at Scotiabank Place on Feb. 28. The Bruins held a 5-1-0 advantage over the Senators last season.
Big story: The Bruins were expected by many prognosticators to run away with the division, but they've encountered some unexpected company atop the Northeast, with Montreal sitting on top and Ottawa sitting just three points back of second-place Boston, although the B's have two games in hand. That should make for a spirited matchup on Thursday.
Bruins: While Boston has mostly performed as expected this season, the month of March may have revealed a vulnerability on a Bruins team many still expect to compete for the Stanley Cup this spring. In four of the Bruins' last 10 games, the team has carried a lead into the third period and lost. That's a surprising statistic for a team that went a perfect 32-0-0 when trailing after 40 minutes last season.
That trend continued in Winnipeg on Tuesday. Following a closely-contested opening period at MTS Centre, Brad Marchand opened the scoring just eight ticks into the second, notching his team-leading 13th of the season. That lead held up until midway through the final period, when Blake Wheeler deflected a Zach Bogosian shot past Tuukka Rask with 23 seconds remaining in Jordan Caron's hooking penalty.
Evander Kane put the Jets ahead just 57 seconds later after Rask failed to secure Grant Clitsome's shot, leaving Kane with a wide-open net. Wheeler added his second goal of the night into an empty net, securing the Bruins' 3-1 defeat.
Senators: Since posting a 1-2-3 record to start the month of March, the Senators have rolled off three straight wins. That streak may have come at the perfect time, as Ottawa opens a season-long five-game homestand Thursday night before embarking on a marathon seven-game road trip that ends April 15 in Boston.
Following a 4-1 home win over Winnipeg on Sunday, the Senators visited the Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday looking for vengeance against a club that beat them 3-2 in a shootout just two weeks earlier. The Senators were outplayed for most of the opening 40 minutes, being outshot 21-13 and outscored 3-1. If there was a silver lining to the events of the first two periods, it was new Senator Matt Kassian, who notched his first NHL goal in over a year.
But as they have all season, the Senators found a way to come back, scoring four unanswered goals in the third period, including Sergei Gonchar's game-winner with a minute remaining, and picked up a 5-3 victory.
Who's hot: Marchand and Patrice Bergeron both have four points in their last five games for the Bruins. … With star defenseman Erik Karlsson gone for the season with an Achilles injury, Gonchar has been on fire, collecting 13 points over an eight-game point streak. Another defenseman, Patrick Wiercioch, has six points in his last four games.
Injury report: Bruins forward Adam McQuaid left Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. Center David Krejci is likely out with a bruised knee, while Chris Kelly (broken tibia) is on injured reserve. … Ottawa's IR is fully stocked, with Jared Cowen (hip), Milan Michalek (knee), Karlsson (Achilles), Jason Spezza (back), Craig Anderson (ankle), Dave Dziurzynski (concussion) and Mike Lundin (concussion) all out. Marc Methot also left Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury.