You might have of the Tampa Bay Lightning, between that Steven Stamkos fellow and their rise to playoff contention over the past two years. The Lightning have gone from a nigh-unwatchable club with a superstar as their first line center to a serious threat in the Eastern Conference ever since Jon Cooper took over. Steve Yzerman, their general manager, has built a team that is no longer Stamkos-or-bust, getting great production out of the Tyler Johnson line. Their defensive depth, often underrated, is among the deepest in Hockey when healthy; in addition to young star Victor Hedman, they added Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison last off-season. It's not a mystery how the Lightning lead the NHL in ROWs, with 40. They're a darn good team.
So this is the Bruins reward for their three-game win streak, to face Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Washington, in four days. The NHL schedule-makers have a sense of humor about March, it seems. The good news, for this game, is that Tampa really still hasn't broken through against the Bruins. It's fair to point out that Boston has displayed a sort of Montreal-over-Boston-like mastery (vomit) of the Lightning over the past couple years, as it's also fair to point out that those Lightning teams weren't as good. This is the second time Boston and Tampa have faced each other this season, and the last time we'll get Tampa at TD Garden. This is also the first game where neither team is on a back-to-back.
You know what's working for Tampa, and, if you've been paying attention, you certainly know what's working for the Bruins. So here's what has some people a little lukewarm on Tampa's postseason prospects: goaltending, simple as that. While Ben Bishop hasn't been bad this year, he's only pitching a .914 (.916 at evens to Rask's .930, for example) after last year's dramatic heights. His back-up, 20-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy, is at .917 in 12 games. The Lightning, as mentioned above, don't get enough credit for being a good, shot-suppressing defensive team, in part because all anyone wants to talk about is their NHL-leading 223 goals on offense. If they're going to beat the Bruins and make a postseason run, average-ish goaltending may not drag them down, but it's certainly not a strength compared to the rest of the roster this year.
The Well-Known Villains, The Tampa Bay Lightning (90 Points, 3rd in the East)
SBNation "Enemy" Blog: Raw Charge
Tampa is on a four-game winning streak, their last victory coming over the Habs in OT. They're currently in a glut of four different teams -- Montreal and the two New York teams being the other two -- that are all within a point of the overall Eastern Conference lead. Montreal retains the Atlantic Division lead right now, by a single point.
Stamkos is one of the most fun players to watch in hockey, in my opinion. It's crazy how often the guy converts SOGs into goals with that shot of his. That said, the Lightning points leader this year is actually Tyler Johnson, who's centered their "triplet" line and put 25-40-65 numbers. Rumblings out of Tampa this morning suggest that one member of that line, Ondrej Palat, 15-37-52, is questionable for tonight's game, as is Zdeno Chara's BFF Cedric Paquette. The other triplet, Nikita Kucherov, is 25-31-56 for the season, which is your "I bet you didn't know that" statline for the day.
I've heard a couple Lightning bloggers say their Bottom 6 has missed Brett Connolly's zone entry/secondary scoring, but that's still a pretty solid 3rd/4th unit.
Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov Cedric Paquette - Valtteri Filppula - Vladislav Namestnikov
Johnathan Drouin - Brian Boyle - Brenden Morrow
Pretty solid unit overall -- one that can move the puck and play defense. Coburn, a solid addition from Philly at the deadline, may not be available for this game.
Anton Stralman - Victor Hedman
Mark Barberio - Andrej Sustr
Jason Garrison -
And In Net:
Bishop is the likely starter. He is very tall. Will confirm when starter is confirmed.
Record vs. the Bruins this year: 0-1-0
Your Recently-Quite-Good Boston Bruins (78 Points, 8th in the East)
We see your four-game win streak, Tampa, and will look to replace it with our own. After victories in their last three games, the Bruins are within four points of the 7th-place Washington Capitals (who are the opponent on Sunday). The surge has left the Florida Panthers six points back, and the Ottawa Senators seven.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Milan Lucic - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Maxime Talbot
Seidenberg played 25 minutes on Tuesday, so I would expect the load to be slightly lighter on his pairing today. Expect to see a lot of Z tonight.
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski - Dennis Seidenberg
Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid
And In Net:
Starter as of yet confirmed. Fully expecting Tuukka in light of the strong competition and there being a back-to-back this weekend.
Last game versus Tampa was a back-to-back for them, so I'm fully expecting them to play like they have something to prove in this one. The Bruins are playing some of their better hockey this year right now, so both teams should be sharp. Go B's!
UPDATE: Coburn, Palat, and Paquette are all out with injuries. No word yet on who replaces them.
UPDATE2: as per multiple Tampa-supporting friends, it looks like Mike Angelidis, JT Brown, and Nikita Nesertov would be the replacements. The latter on defense.