Boston was finally taking advantage of the home ice at the Garden with two wins and a shootout loss in their last three games there, but now they head to Florida for a pair of games before returning home for Thanksgiving.
Of course, escaping the cold that’s starting to strike the region for a few days in the Sunshine State is never a bad thing. That’s especially true when you have a 7-1-0 record on the road.
The Bruins will put that record on the line Monday night in Tampa against a talented Lightning team that’s 4-2-1 on home ice and has won its last three games, and is already 3-0-0 against Northeast Division teams this season.
Boston Bruins (11-5-2, 24 points) at Tampa Bay Lightning (11-7-2, 24 points)
Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m. (VERSUS)
St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.
This is the first of four meetings this season between the Bruins and Lightning. Boston and Tampa Bay each won twice in last year’s four-game set, with both teams winning once at home and once on the road. The Bruins hold a 40-17-9-0 advantage in the all-time series, including a 17-13-3-0 mark at Tampa.
Tim Thomas struggled a bit early before settling down on Saturday against Los Angeles, but still dropped a shootout decision to fall to 10-1-1. His 1.49 GAA and .954 remain stellar, as do his four shutouts. Tuukka Rask finally earned his first win of the season on Thursday with a 41-save shutout of his own against Florida. He’s now 1-4-1 on the year, but improved his GAA to 2.24 and his save percentage to .939.
Tampa Bay’s Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have split the duties fairly evenly. Ellis is 5-4-2 with a 2.81 GAA and an .898 save percentage, while Smith is 6-3-0 with a 3.39 GAA and an .879 save percentage. Neither has had much success against the Bruins, with Ellis losing his only start with three goals on 27 shots and Smith 2-4-0 despite a 2.31 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Lightning center Nate Thompson spent three seasons in the Bruins system, playing primarily in Providence from 2005-08, though he did make it up for four games with Boston. Lightning assistant coach Daniel Lacroix also played for the Bruins in 1994-95. Forward Dominic Moore played at Harvard and St. Louis was a teammate of Thomas’ at the University of Vermont. New Lightning owner Jeff Vinik lives is Weston, Mass. and is a minority owner of the Red Sox. Bruins forward Mark Recchi came to Boston in a deadline deal with the Lightning in 2008 after spending one season in Tampa.
The Lightning have just six fighting majors, tying for 24th in the league, just one year after finishing fourth with 73. Of course, Tampa let Zenon Konopka, who led the NHL with 33 fighting majors last year, walk and traded away heavyweight Matt Walker, as Steve Yzerman has imported Detroit’s anti-toughness approach. Agitator Steve Downie leads the Lightning with two fights, while Thompson, Ryan Malone, Adam Hall and Pavel Kubina each have one. Boston has 19 fighting majors in 18 games, with Shawn Thornton, Greg Campbell, Mark Stuart and Adam McQuaid each contributing three and Milan Lucic two. Last year’s series produced two fights, with Byron Bitz taking on Konopka and Thornton battling Walker.
The Bruins rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force overtime on Saturday. Even though they lost in the shootout, they should have some momentum to build off, especially since that setback followed three straight wins. But the Lightning are riding a three-game win streak of their own, as they return home after a posting road victories over the Islanders, Flyers and Sabres, including a wild 8-7 win in Philadelphia. The Bruins would prefer to play a more controlled road game on Monday, but the high-powered Tampa attack can make that a difficult proposition.