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Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins: First place is on the line

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The regular season crown is up for grabs as the Lightning travel to Boston.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins: GAME# 77 (Hey that’s Ray Bourque’s old number!)

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: The Lightning’s Personal House of Horrors (aka TD Garden)

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN, SunS

Opponent SBNation Site: Stanley Cup of Chowde

How about a little battle for first place in the Atlantic to wake things up a bit in the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room? With six games to go in the season (two of them against Boston) it’s most likely the closest things to smelling salts a team can take. The loss Tuesday against Arizona was uninspired at best, and hopefully the compete level on Thursday is a bit closer to what fans saw in the first two months of the season.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a bit ridiculous that fans are calling for the head of Coach Jon Cooper. This is a 50-win team. They are the highest-scoring team in club history. They have been in first place virtually all season and clinched a playoff spot before spring officially started. Take a step back and focus on all of the positive that this team is still bringing to the table:

  • Nikita Kucherov is knocking on the door of 100 points.
  • Yanni Gourde is a rookie with 58 points.
  • Brayden Point has 62 points.
  • Five players have 20 or more goals.
  • Despite his recent struggles, Andrei Vasilevskiy has the most wins in a season by a Lightning goaltender (42), the third best save percentage (.921) in a season and the most shutouts in a season (7).

While a loss to the Bruins wouldn’t be the end of the world, the Lightning will still accomplish their regular season goal of reaching the playoffs no matter what the outcome ends up being, it would be nice to see them play with a little more urgency then they’ve displayed in the last couple of weeks. Remember how fun that third period comeback against Toronto was? Maybe play like that for an entire game.

Boston presents a stiff challenge to a team looking to recapture an offensive spark. How? By not allowing teams to play offense. It’s really that simple. They are the perfect foil to the Lightning - the league’s most prolific offense even with their recent scuffling. The Bruins counter by being arguably the best defensive team in the league. Not only do they not allow goals (only 2.55 per game) they don’t even allow their opponents a chance to score as they smother shot attempts (a league best CA/60 of 44.61).

The top line of Patrice Bergeron (who returned to action in their previous game against Winnipeg), David Pasternak and Brad Marchand (who would be a league-wide fan favorite outside of Boston if he wasn’t such a unrepenadent asshole on the ice) suffocates any line that they match up against. That wouldn’t be too much of a problem if they also didn’t have the ability to put the puck in the net as well. The trio has combined for 91 goals, which is really impressive for a line that gets a lot of press for their defense.

If there is some hope for the Lightning, it lies in the fact that the Bruins should be a fairly tired and banged-up team. They just finished up a stretch of eight out of nine games on the road that included a four game road trip that ended in the vast northern outpost of Winnipeg on Tuesday. Of course since they’re Boston they picked up points in seven of those nine games including a 3-0 win in Tampa on March 17th.

Bergeron returned against Winnipeg after missing 13 games with a broken foot as did Torey Krug. Rick Nash, Jake DeBrusk, David Backes, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy also are part of their walking wounded unit. So if there is ever a chance for the Lightning to pick up their 7th career regular season victory at TD Garden (out of 46 games) now would seem to be the moment.

Not that the Lightning are much healthier. Steven Stamkos, who has had his share of injuries in this building, is nursing a “nagging injury” that kept him out of the game against Arizona. Victor Hedman and Adam Erne were banged up in that game while Ryan Callahan is unlikely to play until the last few games of the season. Jake Dotchin missed practice on Wednesday with an illness as well.

Despite those maladies, the Lightning should still have enough firepower in their line-up to test Boston’s staunch defense. The question is - can they muster the enthusiasm?

Comparison chart: JustinG.’s Random Video Hour

There are a lot of “Zdeno Chara is tall” bits of trivia floating around the internet, but how about a visual representation? An equipment shop got their hands on a Chara stick and let some amatuer hockey players mess around with it.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

JT Miller-Steven Stamkos- Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson

Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Ondrej Palat

Chis Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Cory Conacher

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Peter Budaj

Line-up notes:

Andrei Vasilevskiy was not on the ice for the morning skate in Boston.

More than likely this is the organization giving the Russian netminder some rest as the season winds down. It’s unclear at this time if Vasilevskiy will start this evening (the morning skate could be optional). In a game with first place in the division on the line it’s unlikely that Tampa will not start Vasilevskiy this evening, however, you never know what could happen. We’ll keep you all updated.

Additionally, Adam Erne’s injury is now officially being called a lower-body injury. He is out indefinitely.

The only combination we can be certain of is the goaltenders. Vasilevskiy will get his 61st start. Other than that, who knows. Steven Stamkos is a game-time decision as he continues to deal with a “nagging” lower body injury. Adam Erne was shaken up last game as was Victor Hedman. Does Coach Cooper rest them with the end goal being healthy for the playoffs or does he start them in order to give the team the best chance to gain some separation from Boston?

Boston Bruins Lines

Forward Lines

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak

Ryan Donato - David Krejci - Tommy Wingels

Danton Heinen - Riley Nash - Brian Gionta

Tim Schaller - Sean Kuraly - Noel Acciari

Defense Pairings

Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk - Kevan Miller

Nick Holden - Adam McQuaid

Goalies

Tuukka Rask

Anton Khudobin

Line-up Notes: The original projected lines were based on their last game against Winnipeg. Matt Grzelcyk did leave that game with an injury so he’s most likely to be out against the Lightning. There is a good chance that the defense could be drastically different with the inclusion of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. Gee. Just what the Lightning need to face - the return of a future hall of famer and a Calder-worthy rookie.