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GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (42-19-8-5) at Boston Bruins (36-17-14-7).

TIME: Saturday, Noon EST.

Having already clinched playoff berths, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins will spend the final eight games of the regular season trying to put themselves in the best possible position.

Tampa Bay continues its chase of the NHL's best record while Boston looks to extend its slim lead atop the Northeast Division when two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference meet.

The Southeast Division champion Lightning are tied with Detroit for the league's best record, and are three points ahead of Philadelphia for the top seed in the East. Tampa Bay, headed to the playoffs for just the third time in 12 years, has already set franchise records for wins and points in a season.

Publicly challenged by coach John Tortorella to perform better, Nikolai Khabibulin responded with 25 saves, and Tim Taylor had a goal and an assist in the Lightning's 3-1 victory over Buffalo on Thursday.

Tortorella wasn't happy with Khabibulin's play in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Thursday's victory snapped a two-game losing streak for Tampa Bay, which has points in 10 straight road games (7-0-1-2).

"It was a pretty tight game, lots of hitting, and the fans were really into it," Khabibulin said. "I hope in the last eight games that we play more of these type of games to get us ready for the playoffs. We wanted to make sure we did the right things at the right time."

NHL scoring leader Martin St. Louis scored into an empty net with 11 seconds left for his 86th point of the season, tying the franchise record set by Brian Bradley in 1992-93.

"When you're in the same sentence as Brian Bradley, it's an honor," St. Louis said. "But the most important thing is the two points."

Despite allowing only 15 shots, Boston had a six-game unbeaten streak stopped with a 2-0 loss to visiting Minnesota on Thursday.

It was the ninth time this season and seventh time at home the Bruins were shut out.

"We were in their end a lot, but we've got to give them credit because they did a good job," Boston's Travis Green said. "But we've got to find a way to score goals."

Boston, one point ahead of Ottawa and Toronto in the Northeast, has failed to score more than three goals in 13 straight games.

Ironically, the Bruins were held without a goal on the night one of their top offensive players returned to the lineup. Left wing Sergei Samsonov played his first game after missing 15 of 16 contests with a rib injury.

"I thought Sergei played OK," Bruins coach Mike Sullivan said. "He had the puck a fair amount and I'm sure he's going to get better."

Tampa Bay has points in seven straight meetings with Boston (4-0-2-1).

STANDINGS: Lightning - 97 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Bruins - 93 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - St. Louis, 35 goals, 51 assists and 86 points; Chris Dingman, 136 PIM. Bruins - Glen Murray, 29 goals; Joe Thornton, 47 assists and 68 points; Doug Doull, 122 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 18): Lightning - Power play: 16.8 percent (51 for 304), 10th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.4 percent (211 for 250), 11th. Bruins - Power play: 16.5 percent (43 for 261), 16th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (253 for 302), 19th.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Khabibulin (26-16-7, 3 SO, 2.28 GAA); John Grahame (16-8-1, 1, 1.99). Bruins - Andrew Raycroft (25-16-8, 3, 1.97); Felix Potvin (11-8-6, 4, 2.52).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 2-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 27; Lightning, 4-2. At Tampa, Fla., St. Louis scored two of the Lightning's team-record three short-handed goals and assisted on the third.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 21-10-4-3 on the road; Bruins - 15-10-8-2 at home.

Associated Press
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