TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
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BOSTON — Having played eight of their last nine, including the last four on the road, the battered and bruised Boston Bruins return to TD Garden with a chance to take over the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
It is the first of two games between the two President’s Trophy contenders in the closing days of the regular season and the Lightning lead the Bruins by one point with Boston having a game in hand.
The Bruins, 2-0 against the Lightning this season, have gotten Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug back from injury but added young defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to their list in Tuesday night’s 5-4 shootout loss in Winnipeg.
“A long trip at the end of the season, not easy, especially getting some injuries. Our focus is on Tampa now and it’s going to be another tough matchup,” Bruins forward David Pastrnak said after Tuesday’s game. “I don’t think we should overthink that. We just need to play our game. We’ve been playing pretty good lately. Just keep playing that way and we’ll see what happens.”
The Bruins are 10-2-3 in their last 15 games, the first 13 of those games without Bergeron. They continue to compete without Zdeno Chara, Rick Nash and Jake DeBrusk, picking up six of a possible eight points on the four-game trip.
The Lightning have lost two in a row and gone 3-4-0 over their last seven but that came after winning nine of their previous 10.
They have scored two goals in their last two games and suffered a 4-1 home loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night, with Steven Stamkos missing his first game of the season, out with a lower-body injury.
Stamkos skated with the team before the Lightning flew to Boston Wednesday and will be a game-time decision for this important game.
“We’ll see how it feels the rest of today and tomorrow,” Stamkos said. “It was just something that was nagging a little bit, so thought we’d give it a couple days to see if it would settle down. It definitely felt better than it did the last time I was on the ice.”
Stamkos, who has a career-high 59 assists this season, would benefit from time off before the playoffs, saying, “It’s probably one of those things where if you just took two weeks doing nothing, it’d probably be good. But you don’t really want to do that right now heading into the stretch run here where we’re fighting for a division.
“It’s obviously nothing major, but it’s something that has just been nagging. I don’t want it to be nagging. We’ll just play it day by day now. It’s gotten better the last couple days with just getting treatment and doing some things away from the ice. We’ll see how it feels today and tomorrow morning.”
The Bruins signed Chara, their 41-year-old captain, to a one-year extension with a $5 million base another $1.25 million kicking in if he plays just 10 games and a max of $6.75 if the team wins the Stanley Cup.
“It all starts with him being a dominant player,” said GM Don Sweeney. “He doesn’t shy away from any match-ups or any situations.”
The Bruins are 6-1-0 in their last seven games against Tampa Bay.
Tuukka Rask has outdueled Andrei Vasilevskiy in the two games, one a shutout, this season and is 15-6-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .908 save percentage lifetime against the Lightning. Vasilevskiy would be looking for his first career victory against the Bruins — he is 0-3-1 with a 3.00 GAA and .908 percentage against Boston.
Tampa Bay backup Louis Domingue, who played and lost to his old team Monday, is likely to play against the Rangers in New York on Friday night on the second half of a back to back. Domingue, who had won three straight in March before Monday, lost his only career starts against the Bruins — when he was with the Coyotes.