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Stamkos expects to play for Lightning against Bruins in Atlantic showdown

Will be game-time decision, first place in division at stake

by Corey Long / Correspondent

BRANDON, Fla. -- Steven Stamkos will be a game-time decision but said he expects to play when the Tampa Bay Lightning begin a stretch of four games in six days facing the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, NESN, FS-F, NHL.TV).

The center, who missed a 4-1 home loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday with a lower-body injury, wore a regular jersey when he participated in an optional practice Wednesday. He said he doesn't want to take another game off with the Atlantic Division title at stake; the first-place Lightning (51-21-4) lead the Bruins (47-17-11) by one point but have played one more game.

"Obviously I don't want to miss any game," said Stamkos, who had played in each of Tampa Bay's 75 games before Monday. "It's just something that didn't feel great the last couple of days. You just don't want things nagging toward the end of the year going into the playoffs. It was tough to sit out last game, so if I feel like I can play and it isn't going to hinder my performance in a way that can hurt the team, I'm going to be in.

"It's probably one of those things where if you just took two weeks and did nothing it'd probably be good. But I don't really want to do that right now when we're heading into the stretch run here where we're fighting for a division. It's obviously nothing major but it's something that's been nagging. We'll play it day by day; it's gotten better the last couple of days of treatment and doing things away from the ice."

Video: PHI@TBL: Stamkos scores power-play goal on one-timer

Tampa Bay has clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but is 3-4-0 in its past seven games. The Lightning have led the division for most of the season; a loss to the Bruins, who also clinched a playoff berth, would drop Tampa Bay out of first place for the first time since Oct. 18.

Tampa Bay is struggling to find consistency on offense. The Lightning lead the NHL in goals (267) but have been outscored 26-20 in their past seven games and have been held to one goal or fewer three times during that stretch.

Coach Jon Cooper said he isn't concerned about the lack of scoring but said he does want to see more puck control in the offensive zone.

"The one thing that has stifled us a little bit is that we've been a little too much one and done and not getting the rebound or shot for scramble that really fuels our offense," Cooper said. "It's been shooting it into the [goaltender's] glove and they freeze it or we lose a draw and the puck goes out of the zone and we have to start over. We have to start extending those [offensive-zone] shifts and that will help with our scoring."

Secondary scoring has also become a concern for the Lightning. Forwards Yanni Gourde, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn have combined to score three goals over the past seven games.

"We just have to come back to our game," Gourde said. "I think we've lost our [swagger] a little bit. We've lost our confidence with the puck, our playmaking, our ability to make plays in the offensive zone. We've just got to get back to what works for us: using our speed, working in the offensive zone, shooting pucks around the net."

Video: FLA@TBL: Gourde buries loose puck at side of net

Stamkos admitted the Lightning's level of emotion hasn't been where it should be. However, the captain expects that will change with games against the Bruins on Thursday and April 3 at Amalie Arena.

"It's been kind of a strange year in regards to jumping out to that huge lead and then just kind of finding ways to win games and have that lead and not really be in a position where you're fighting for a playoff spot," Stamkos said. "It's something that's different for a lot of us, and it just doesn't spark that same emotion heading into big games.

"But tomorrow, for example, it's going to be a very emotional game, and I'd expect the guys to be ready for that and have a little more intensity than the Arizona game. These games against Boston the last couple of days are going to have a playoff atmosphere, and it will be a good indication of where we're at."

Defenseman Victor Hedman should play against the Bruins but he has missed practice time for body maintenance after taking a hard check to the boards from Coyotes forward Max Domi in the final minute of the game Monday. Forwards Ryan Callahan (upper body) and Adam Erne (lower body) are doubtful against the Bruins.

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