The Bruins have a chance to further separate themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference this week when they play the Tampa Bay Lightning twice in three games.
Boston holds a seven-point lead over Tampa Bay heading into its Tuesday game at Amalie Arena. And picking up a potential four points could be crucial to the B’s as they head into the final stretch of the regular season.
The B’s have won six of their last eight games, capping off the month of February with a 4-0 shutout of the New York Islanders.
And with just 16 games remaining until the playoffs, and a week that features three games against conference opponents who Boston potentially could see come the postseason, every point is crucial.
Let’s take a look at what the Bruins have on deck:
Tuesday, March 3 at Tampa Bay Lightning
Thursday, March 5 at Florida Panthers
Saturday, March 7 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
What You Need To Know
The Lightning are in a bit of a slump, having won just one of their last five games. They gave up 24 goals during that stretch while scoring 15. They also are forced to be without Steven Stamkos’ scoring touch and leadership for the rest of the regular season after he underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury. The forward ranked second on Tampa Bay in goals and points and led the team in power-play tallies, so his absence certainly will be felt.
“He’s the guy that kind of drives the bus for our team, on the ice, off the ice, in the locker room,” Pat Maroon said, per NHL.com “When we heard the news, it’s a blow to our team. That line was playing some really good hockey. They were kind of driving the bus for us, pushing our team forward. We’re going to miss him.”
The Bolts also have been without Ryan McDonagh since Feb. 6 when he suffered an upper-body injury, but he’s expected to return to practice this week.
Tampa Bay is second in the league in goals scored per game with 3.51 (just barely behind the Toronto Maple Leafs at 3.52), so it certainly will test Tuukka Rask, who has a league-best 2.16 goals-against average.
The Panthers have lost five of their last six games and sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with 73 points, four behind the Maple Leafs. They haven’t found much of a groove since the mandatory break after winning six-straight before that and were one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
But the Panthers have struggled at home this season and lost their seventh straight at BB&T Center against the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Florida has earned just 12 of a possible 34 points since the All-Star break and has to welcome a red-hot Bruins team to its home ice Thursday night.
Teams have scored the second-most goals in the NHL on Florida with 220, behind only the lowly Detroit Red Wings.
Who Bruins Need To Watch Out For
Nikita Kucherov has dazzled for the Lightning recently, amassing 14 goals and 17 assists during a 19-game point streak. His success mainly has come at full strength, with a goal and two assists on the power play during his recent hot stretch. And now with Stamkos out, Kucherov likely will try to take his game to an even higher level to keep the Lightning in the hunt for the Eastern Conference’s top spot.
Mike Hoffman had a seven-game point streak come to an end in Florida’s loss against the Flames, but he’s the Panthers’ hottest player right now. Despite Florida’s recent slump, he’s been keeping his team in games and giving the Panthers a chance to win each night.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images