On Thursday the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins will square off in an Atlantic Division showdown with playoff implications. The Bruins sit in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 82 points, and the Lightning are sitting just outside the playoff picture with 77 points. The bottom line being both clubs desperately need wins to make the postseason.
This will be the fourth and final matchup of the 2016-17 season between the division foes. In the first three meetings, the Bruins were able to walk away victorious all three times and have outscored the Lightning 11-7. They will be looking for the season sweep in their most important meeting.
Three Bruins players have led the charge against the Lightning this season by recording four points in the previous three games. Brad Marchand, their leading scorer, has notched four assists against the Lightning to go along with Patrice Bergeron’s and David Krejci’s goal and three assists each.
For the Lightning, defenseman Victor Hedman has found the most success against the Bruins by registering two goals and five points on top of his dominant defensive play. Tyler Johnson has also had the Bruins’ number this season recording two goals and four points, but Johnson remains sidelined with a knee injury.
This contest should be labeled a must-win for both sides, so expect a playoff style effort from each club in what should be an entertaining hockey game.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins
TD Garden-7:00 p.m. E.S.T
Broadcast Channels-NESN, TVAS, SUN, 98.5 The Sports Hub
2016-17 Season Series: Bruins Lead 3-0
Tampa Bay Lightning-34-29-9- 77 Points
Road Record: 15-15-6
Hot Players: Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat
Key Injuries: Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette
Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn-Vladislav Namestnikov-Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne-Yanni Gourde-Joel Vermin
Luke Witkowski-Gabriel Dumont-J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman-Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison-Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn-Andrej Sustr
Boston Bruins-38-29-6- 82 Points
Home Record: 19-15-0
Hot Players: Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug
Key Injuries: Tim Schaller
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Backes
Drew Stafford-David Krejci-David Pastrnak
Frank Vatrano-Ryan Spooner-Noel Acciari
Matt Beleskey-Dominic Moore-Riley Nash
Zdeno Chara-Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Kevan Miller-Colin Miller
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Lightning’s roster has been interesting much of the season as they continue to battle the injury bug. They are missing numerous key players including Tyler Johnson (knee), Ryan Callahan (hip), Cedric Paquette (leg) and Steven Stamkos (knee). Despite the string of injuries, the Lightning have managed a 5-4-1 record over their last 10 games to stay alive in the playoff race.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] Bruins forward Frank Vatrano’s last goal came on Feb. 26 against the Dallas Stars. The 11-game drought is the longest scoreless streak of Vatrano’s young career. During this stretch, he has managed to tally two assists and 22 shots on net. He is a gifted goal scorer with a hard shot and has 10 goals in 39 games this season. He will try to end his drought and light the lamp against the Lightning.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] Both the Bruins and Lightning enter this contest on three-game losing streaks. The Lightning have suffered losses to the Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs and most recently to the Arizona Coyotes in a tough tilt. The Bruins were taken down by the Edmonton Oilers, Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. The good news is one of these clubs will stop the bleeding and record a win on Thursday, but the bad news is the losing clubs’ playoff hopes will take a serious hit. This is a make-or-break game for each team.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] Veteran goaltender Peter Budaj will get the start in goal for the Lightning. Since being traded from the Los Angeles Kings, Budaj has started two games and appeared in a total of three contests. For the Bruins, Tuukka Rask will be between the pipes for the third time in four days. Rask has enjoyed success when playing the Lightning, going 3-0-0 with a 2.27 GAA and a .915 save percentage this season. Both goalies will be under a lot of pressure to play well and give their club a chance to win.
Both the Lightning and Bruins are desperate for wins as the regular season is coming to a close making this meeting likely one of the more entertaining battles of the 2016-17 season.
The Bruins will need to jump on the Lightning early and take advantage of their inexperienced roster, assembled to deal with injuries to their key players. If the Bruins can open up an early lead and get the crowd into the game from the first period, they will have a good chance to come away with two points. They also need to focus on staying out of the box as unnecessary penalties have cost them wins recently.
For the Lightning, they need to focus on stopping the Bruins’ first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Backes. This line has been doing the majority of the damage to opponents lately while the other lines have been struggling. If coach Jon Cooper can match Hedman against the Marchand line for most shifts, the Lightning will have a better chance of keeping the Bruins off the scoreboard.
Anthony Pagliarulo is a Boston Bruins contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a Massachusetts native and a Worcester State University alumni. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @APags87.