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The finish line; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Boston Bruins preview

The marathon of the NHL season comes to a close Saturday night as the Bolts prepare for the second season and the Boston Bruins hope to avoid ruin.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC Sports Network (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Stanley Cup of ChowderDays of Y'Orr

Starting at 12:30 PM this afternoon, the finish line for the marathon that is an annual NHL season will start coming in to view and be crossed. For some member clubs in s league, they'll crawl pathetically with a whimper. Others will cross that finish line with a frustrated scowl across their face: Damn it! It was so close and it slipped away! We could have kept going! We had a chance!

For 16 of the NHL's 30 member clubs, the marathon has been nothing more than just a 26-mile warm-up for the final dash to the glory that is the Stanley Cup. Maybe "dash" or even a race analogy applies for the playoffs? A four-tier heavyweight prize fight is what's in store starting April 15th for playoff bound clubs.

Tonight's contest at Amalie Arena between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins is a fight to the finish, a one-way fight as the Bruins need victory or a playoff berth is impossible to attain. The loser-point does nothing. If you'd like to read more about the Bruins situation and what they need, head over to MassLive for that, as the stipulations and scenarios and analogies are getting away from a very important subject matter:

It's a game night, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are prepping for the 2015 NHL playoffs.

Tampa Bay fans do need to take note of something from the conclusion of the Bruins season this year; three-games on the road was pushed on the B's because TD Garden hosted the Frozen Four (the college hockey championship tournament). Amalie Arena is set to host the 2016 Frozen Four... So there's a very good likelihood the Bolts close out the season on a road trip.

Friday saw Alex Killorn, Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr skating in practice with red, no-contact jerseys on. Don't expect any of three to pop in and play tonight. What about defenseman Braydon Coburn, though? Where's he at? He skated this morning in a regular jersey for the third day in a row. Coburn's been sidelined a month even, having been lost to injury on March 10th in Montreal. Could the defenseman make it back to the lineup tonight as a trial? Perhaps. For safety sake, perhaps not - with Coburn so close to a return, why risk aggravating the injury that has kept him out a month? Still, a spot-light game like tonights may be a good test.

The TKO Trio, the Lightning's second line combo of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, has been the most potent line (and consistent line) of the season for Tampa Bay. It's noteworthy that Johnson is a single goal away from reaching 30 goals for the season and Kucherov is two goals away from accomplishing that feat. Neither forward has lit the lamp against the Bruins this season, with Kucherov getting 2 assists in three games and Johnson getting a single assist in two games against the B's.

Ben Bishop will start his 60th game in net tonight for Tampa. His save percentage is up to .915, his goals against average is at 2.33, his record is 39-13-5 with 4 shutouts, but he also continued his habit this season of allowing early goals to opponents on Thursday. It's a little quirk that's shown up mostly in the 2015 half of the season.

Unless Divine Intervention takes place, Tuukka Rask will start in net for Boston, his 67th start of the season. While Rask's save percentage is solid (.922) his goals-against average mirrors Bishop's (2.31). He's 34-21-12, meaning a loss of any kind also perfects a personal middling record of .500 for the 2014-15 season for Rask.

As for Boston and the players, Milan Lucic is the closest to hitting a round-number in the goals department - he has 18 on the season. No Bruin will have 30 goals or more this season unless Boston runs rampant on TB tonight in an uncharacteristic kind of fashion. Torey Krug is 2 points shy of finishing the season with 30 points. Patrice Bergeron is the only Bruin who will finish the season with more than 50 points.

This will also be Brett Connolly's 4th game with the Bruins and the first time he's played against his former club. Connolly has a pair of assists in four games and 10 penalty minutes to his name.

The Lightning as a team is already in new territory for the franchise; 49 wins is a record for the club and the fact 46 of those wins have occurred in regulation/overtime matches the club's high-water mark of ROWs (46, achieved in 2004 before the shootout came into being). On the other hand, if Boston loses tonight it truly will have been a mediocre season for the Bruins; the club is currently 41-27-13, or 41-40 (overtime/shootout losses are still loses).

Another weird little rub is that the Lightning's power play has improved to the point it's better than an opponent's power play. Shocking, no? Tampa Bay has an 18.9% conversion rate going into the last game of the season while the Bruins are converting 18.1% of man-advantage opportunities. That places the Lightning in a tie for 13th in the league with the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes while the Bruins are tied for 17th in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets.

The penalty kill is also an advantage point for the Lightning over Boston statistically as the season draws to a close, though it's a closer ranking: Tampa Bay is 9th in the league with an 83.5% kill rate while the B's are 12th overall in the league with an 81.9 kill-rate.

Tonight's game is broadcast on NBC Sports Net, as of this writing I don't know how necessary #MishMute is going to be. Telling Pierre to shut up is a necessity though with or without him covering the game.

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