A playoff tier affair; Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins preview

The first of back-to-back games for the Lightning pits the club in a playoff-like game against the B's.

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts | When: 6:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: NBC Sports Net | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Stanley Cup of Chowder, The Bruins Blog, The Big Bad Blog

With the NHL Trade Deadline lingering, a flurry of transactions throughout the NHL took place Saturday and will likely continue today. Teams are prepping for long term and rebuilding by shuttling assets off for draft picks and prospects, others are playing for the now and contention in the NHL Playoffs (coming soon...). Yet the games go on. Some don't need added attention to be noteworthy competition, such as this evening's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins.

Both clubs have 74 points to their name, both have had their low points and hit a stride as things progressed. If the season ended today, Tampa Bay versus Boston would be one of the opening round contests in the NHL playoffs. Including today's affair there are only two games left between the Bolts and B's on the regular season schedule and both are playoff-caliber games. As things stand in the Atlantic Division, these games are a battle for home-ice advantage for that first round affair. Things can change though, as far as we know the Detroit Red Wings will surge ahead of both Boston and Tampa Bay, or Florida collapse and the Lightning or Bruins take over the top spot in the division; there's 20 games left, give or take, for all four clubs and that can go any number of ways.

The two clubs faced each other in October with the series split (6-3 Lightning win followed by a 3-1 Boston win to end the month). October offered very different teams in Boston and Tampa Bay: The Bruins struggled to start while the Lightning went from a starting surge to mediocre as fall went on. That was that, though. As it stands, Boston is behind the Lightning in the Atlantic Division only by way of one less win and the Bolts having a game in-hand. Boston's and Tampa Bay's goal differential is rather close (+20 for the Lightning, +23 for Boston) but the amount differential from one club to the other is noteworthy. Boston is just shy of 200 goals scored on the season (194) while the Lightning's offensive total has not matched what Boston has allowed on the season (169; Boston has allowed 171 total goals).

Yeah, the Bruins are potent... Potent is an accurate term for it. Five players are above 40 points (!) on the season, with Patrice Bergeron leading the charge with 53 (23 goals, 30 assists). By contrast, the Bolts have four players above 30 points. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are tied for the team lead with 49 on the season (27 goals, 22 assists for Stammer; 24 goals, 25 assists for Kucherov). The next guy on the points list is Victor Hedman with 36 (30 assists, 6 goals). That's quite a step down, and in general that is the truth for the Lightning on offense... that doesn't mean they're struggling though. How could they if they're among the top teams in the league? It's a responsible game that's being played. With that said, I throw an obligatory hello to Jonathan Drouin, who did not like the hone-your-game approach from the Lightning organization. No, Bruins fans, I don't bring this up to suggest TB/Boston swap players here...

The power play is one reason the Bruins are much more potent than the Lightning: a 22.1% efficiency will do that for you. They're ranked 4th in the overall league while the Lightning float in the bottom 3rd of the overall NHL with a 17.0% success rate. Ouch. The two teams are much closer to even on the penalty kill: The Lightning has an 83.0 kill-rate while Boston is at 82.6 - that's 8th and 10th in the NHL, respectively.

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