The best team in the Eastern Conference a season ago pays a visit to the conference playoff champion tonight at TD Garden. For the first time this season, the Boston Bruins (5-1-0) will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning (3-2-1) in a battle of the elites. Both the Bruins and Lightning have Stanley Cup aspirations, and both know that they stand in each other’s way. Tonight has the potential to be an impressive early season battle and the Bruins’ depth at center will get tested as center David Krejci (upper) body will miss his second game of the season despite skating for half of practice Wednesday.
Krejci Out; Clifton Back In
After an optional skate Thursday at Warrior Arena, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy informed the media that Krejci is a no-go for tonight against the Bolts.
“Krech is out,” Cassidy said. “Didn’t respond to treatment as well as we’d like. So we’ll see how he is tomorrow and then make a determination for Saturday, first if he skates, then travels obviously.”
With Krejci out, Charlie Coyle will be jumping up in the lineup like he did on Monday afternoon in a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks and for the second half of practice Wednesday. Coyle will center Jake DeBrusk and Brett Ritchie. Forward Par Lindholm will draw into the lineup and center Karson Kuhlman and Danton Heinen.
On defense, Connor Clifton will be back in on the third pairing with Matt Grzelcyk and Steven Kampfer will sit.
“It’s Gonna Be a Great Test”
The Lightning didn’t just win the President’s Trophy a season ago, they ran away with it. The Lightning were the undisputed best team in the NHL in the regular season a year ago. Even though they were swept out of the playoffs in the opening round, the Lightning are still considered one of, if not the, best teams in the league.
The Bruins are well aware of this fact. Both the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs stand in the Bruins way of a potential repeat appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. They’ll get a shot at both of them in the coming days.
“We want to see how we measure up against these guys and how they play and how we play,” Coyle told the media Wednesday. “I think it’s gonna be a great test. It’s two great teams [we play].”
Torey Krug agreed with Coyle, adding emphasis on the fact that these are the first meetings between the Bruins and their rivals this season.
“They’re big games, especially the first time you see them in a season. You want to set the tone,” Krug said at Warrior Ice Arena.
Boston Bruins Lines
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – Charlie Coyle – Brett Ritchie
Danton Heinen –Par Lindholm – Karson Kuhlman
Joakim Nordstrom – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Connor Clifton
Kampfer was a late addition on Monday, replacing Connor Clifton. Clifton is expected to return to the lineup tonight, but nothing has been confirmed at this time. These lines, from practice on Wednesday, assume that Krejci will miss the contest. If he can play, however, expect him to slide back between Jake DeBrusk and Brett Ritchie.
Slow Start In Tampa
The Lightning are just 3-2-1 on the season. They escaped Montreal with a 3-1 victory on Tuesday, but they were vastly outplayed. That came on the heels of a poor performance, and loss, in Ottawa against the Senators. For a team that expects to compete for the Stanley Cup, this start has not been good enough.
The Lightning feel Tuesday’s win is a step in the right direction, but acknowledge there is still work to be done. “It was definitely a step in the right direction. It wasn’t perfect, but we’re going forward and I think that’s good to see. We made much better decisions with the puck,” forward Yanni Gourde told the media.
Assistant coach Jeff Halpern has liked the response of the team to this point.
“We’ve had a couple bad games early on in our season, but we’ve been able to respond,” he said after practice Wednesday. “The players have done a good job of coming back from each one of those games with a good effort.”
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Mathieu Joseph
Patrick Maroon – Carter Verhaeghe – Luke Witkowski
Victor Hedman – Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh – Kevin Shattenkirk
Braydon Coburn – Mikhail Sergachev