Coming off a 3-0 shutout over the Flyers, the Bruins return home to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. This is their second meeting in 10 days with the Lightning. On November 22, the Bruins surrendered three second period goals and lost 3-1 in St. Pete.
The Lightning, a doormat for years, are having a resurgence this season. At 14-8-3, they are second in the Southeast Division, and fourth in the Eastern Conference. They last played Tuesday night, with a dramatic 4-3 overtime win over the Maple Leafs, in which Martin St. Louis scored with 8.7 seconds left in regulation to tie it, and then Simon Gagne scored the winner in OT, taking a crucial point away from the Leafs. Crucial, of course, in the sense that every point counts in the Adam Larsson Watch.
If the Bruins just defeated a Flyers team that prides itself on balanced scoring, the same cannot be said of tonight's opponent. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are the deadliest 1-2 punch in the NHL, with a combined 71 points between them. Stamkos has 21 goals in 25 games, leading the league, and within sight of the coveted "50 goals in 50 games" milestone, an exclusive club of which only Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Maurice Richard, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull are officially members. (Cam Neely's 50 in 44 games is, perhaps unfairly, not official since it was in the Bruins' 66th game.)
When the Stamkos line isn't on the ice, the Bolts have a huge dropoff in scoring. Vincent Lecavalier is out with a broken right hand, and Simon Gagne is just getting back in the lineup after battling a neck injury. Defensively, Victor Hedman is coming into his own with 9 points in 24 games, and a +3 on the season. Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark are offensive-minded blue liners, while Mattias Ohlund and Mike Lundin are more defensively oriented.
The Lightning will start Mike Smith in net. Goaltending has been an issue for Tampa Bay, and Smith has been the lesser of their goaltending tandem, with a Vesa Toskala-esque .879 save percentage. Smith did, however, get the win on November 22.
Marc Savard may make his long-awaited return to the lineup tonight. It will apparently be a game time decision, according to Joe Haggerty. If not tonight, then probably Saturday against Toronto.
Obviously, if Savard can go, that will dramatically change the line charts, but if not, I wouldn't expect many changes from the Bruins tonight, unless they don't want to give Tim Thomas back-to-back starts. Thomas hasn't had starts on back-to-back nights yet this season, so that would point to Tuukka Rask in net. But Rask has slumped of late; he played a very poor game against Atlanta on November 28, and lost 3-1 to the Lightning the last time out (though he played fairly well). Check back after pregame warmups to see who's starting in goal.
- The Lightning are an impressive 8-6-1 on the road, and 6-3-1 overall in their last 10 games, but their -4 goal differential may be indicative of a team whose record has outstripped their play.
- Ever since the 3-1 loss on November 22, in which they surrendered 36 shots, the Bruins defense had been tightening up in the shots department; giving up 32, 21 and 26 in their next three games. However, they gave up 41 last night. The Bruins blocked 14 shots, with Zdeno Chara (not ordinarily a big shot blocker) and Johnny Boychuk leading the way with 4. That means the Flyers cranked it up 55 times, far too much, though some of that may be indicative of the Bruins sitting back a bit with a 2-0 lead.
- The Bruins had a whopping 10 minutes in minor penalties last night against Philadelphia. Tampa Bay's power play is 6th in the league at 23.3%; if the Bruins repeat that undisciplined performance, they will pay for it.
- On the other hand, the Bruins did a great job of avoiding turnovers, with 8 giveaways, compared to 17 for the Flyers. Expect Tampa Bay's second and third lines to do a good amount of forechecking and put the defense under pressure; those lines are loaded with guys who get goals from effort more than skill.
- The game starts at 7:00 PM ET and will air on NESN and 98.5 FM The Sports Hub.
- The Public Skate open thread gets started a half hour prior to puck drop.
- For more on the Lightning, check out Raw Charge, Tampa Bay's SBNation blog.