The Boston Bruins (41-13-12, 94 points) open up a stretch that will show just how ready this group is for the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month. It begins tonight, when the Bruins visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (41-19-5, 87 points) in a battle of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. It is the third of four meetings between the teams this season and the final one in Florida. Tampa took the last meeting 3-2 on December 12th.
Puck drop is slated for 7:30 pm on NBCSN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. Canadian fans can catch the game on Sportsnet East, Ontario and Pacific.
The Bruins and Lightning are no strangers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both teams have seemingly had a residency in the postseason in recent years, and both teams have made runs to the Stanley Cup Final in the last decade. They know what a playoff-type battle looks like. The Bruins are expecting one tonight.
“It’s always a fun one for us…they have been so good for so long and they are on our heels, a potential team that you face down the road,” Torey Krug told reporters Monday. “Exciting matchup. I think both teams are looking forward to it, should have a playoff-type feel to it.”
If the last two meetings are any indication, it should be a tight game too. The Lightning took a 3-2 decision at home in December and a 4-3 shootout decision at TD Garden on October 17th. They sit seven points behind the Bruins in the Atlantic Division standings, even with the 2-0 edge in the head-to-head matchup.
“We’ve all got our finalized rosters, no more trades being done. These are our teams and we will see how we match up,” said Charlie Coyle Monday. “They are a great team. We have to expect a really good game from them and return the favor…we want to be feeling good, we want to have a good game against these guys and see where we are.”
Different Looking Lightning
This is not the same Tampa Bay team that got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. The Lightning signed Patrick Maroon in the summer, then added some bigger-bodied players during the season. The Lightning signed free agent defenseman Zach Bogosian, then dealt for forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman prior to the deadline.
“Goodrow’s a big body, obviously Maroon is as well…maybe they have some more speed down the bottom [of the lineup],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “I think that’s what they want eventually anyway, whether it’s 6-foot-2 and 30 pounds heavier, they want competitive on the puck. They do push the pace and they have their speed…they’ve added a couple bigger pieces. That could be the [effect of losing to Columbus] from last year.”
The Lightning will not have one key piece in their lineup tonight. Steven Stamkos is done for the regular season. The star center is dealing with a core muscle injury and will be out 6-8 weeks. Krug, for one, is relieved to not have to face the dynamic forward.
“Just a great two-way player and, obviously, he’s their leader, so any time you lose your leader it hurts the locker room and the team,” said Krug. “I’m sure they have their guys pulling their weight and stepping up and like any other team it’s another loss for the lineup, but they are going to try and overcome it.”
Krug Quiet On Contract
The Bruins were never going to deal Torey Krug as a rental at last week’s trade deadline. The questions about his contract status and future were never going to go away either. A recent report by Shawn Hutcheon, a longtime Bruins Correspondent for The Fourth Period, had sources telling Hutcheon that Krug wants a six-year contract worth $49 Million.
“I’m not going to comment on that; not worth it,” Krug told BHN after practice Monday. Krug is slated to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his NHL career on July 1st. Recent speculation has connected Krug to the rival Montreal Canadiens.
“I haven’t thought about it any differently since [the year started], so why start now?” Krug asked rhetorically. “I’ve kind of pushed it to the side ever since training camp started. Just tried to help this team win hockey games in the present, try to be part of the answer, the solution to winning here.”
Boston Bruins Lines
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Ondrej Kase
Jake DeBrusk – Charlie Coyle – Karson Kuhlman
Sean Kuraly – Par Lindholm – Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
Bruins lines against the Lightning are subject to change. They are based on yesterday’s practice. Rask, per Cassidy, will start both tonight and Saturday against the Lightning. Jaroslav Halak will start Thursday in Sunrise. Anders Bjork, Anton Blidh and Joakim Nordstrom will sit up front. Bjork alternated in with DeBrusk on Monday. John Moore and Connor Clifton are out on the blueline.
Brad Marchand (illness) is a game-time decision. If he can’t go, DeBrusk will slide up to the first line and Bjork will replace him alongside Coyle.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Blake Coleman – Anthony Cirelli – Alex Killorn
Barclay Goodrow – Tyler Johnson – Yanni Gourde
Patrick Maroon – Mitchell Stephens – Cedric Paquette
Victor Hedman – Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev – Kevin Shattenkirk
Braydon Coburn – Zach Bogosian
Lightning lines against the Bruins are subject to change. Stamkos, as mentioned, is out 6-8 weeks with a core muscle injury and will not return until likely the second round of the playoffs. Jan Rutta (lower-body) and Ryan McDonagh (lower-body) are both on IR and will not play tonight. Both are considered week-to-week.