The two top teams in the Eastern Conference renew acquaintances for the second time in five days as the Boston Bruins host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
The Bruins and Lightning met Tuesday in Tampa Bay, with Boston eking out a 2-1 victory. A regulation Bruins win Saturday would give them an 11-point lead as the top seed in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining on their schedule.
The Bruins enter having won four straight and 15 of their last 18. Boston is 22-3-9 at home this season.
The Lightning have lost five of seven since an 11-game winning streak that ended last month. Tampa Bay is 20-10-3 on the road.
Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk scored, and Tuukka Rask stopped 20 of 21 shots in the Bruins’ victory Tuesday. Mitchell Stephens scored to get the Lightning on the board with 2:32 remaining in the contest, but it was too little, too late.
“They play hard, they play a really good defensive game, and that’s why they are one of the top teams in the league,” Stephens said. “We have a good team in this locker room and we just need to regroup.”
Regroup they did, as the Lightning decisively defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 on Thursday in the conclusion of a five-game homestand. Defenseman Victor Hedman scored twice, Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 32 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season.
“We still didn’t play well defensively, gave up some odd-mans, but we capitalized on our chances and didn’t let them score, so that’s huge,” said Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. “Vasy was just a rock behind us.”
Vasilevskiy had 33 saves in the loss to the Bruins this week. He has started nine of Tampa Bay’s last 11 games.
Kucherov has 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in his last 21 games, his only time being held off the scoresheet in that span coming Tuesday against Boston.
Marchand is similarly rolling for the Bruins as he enters Saturday on an 11-game points streak (five goals, 11 assists). He picked up an assist on a second-period strike from Patrice Bergeron — the center’s 30th goal of the season — as Boston edged the host Florida Panthers 2-1 in overtime Thursday.
Defenseman Torey Krug scored the deciding goal at 4:08 of overtime.
“He’s obviously a huge part of our offense,” Marchand said of Krug. “He just puts himself in good positions to get shots on net and makes things happen back there.”
Defenseman Brandon Carlo took an elbow to the face during the second period of the contest and did not return. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Carlo would be checked for a concussion.
With Jaroslav Halak in net against the Panthers, the Bruins are likely to turn to Rask at home Saturday, where he is 14-1-6 on the season.
Despite losing last time out, the Lightning have won two of their three meetings with the Bruins this season — 4-3 in a shootout Oct. 17 and 3-2 in regulation Dec. 12. Saturday concludes the four-game series between the Atlantic Division rivals.
–Field Level Media