Game Day Preview: Bruins at Lightning
Entering any tilt against the Tampa Bay Lighting with three regulation losses in the last four games is already tough enough. Doing so with an injury-riddled lineup and a struggling offense makes things that much harder.
That’s exactly what the Bruins face in their second-round rematch with their Atlantic Division foes Thursday night in Tampa.
The Bruins are fresh off a spirited practice following their ugly 5-0 loss to the Panthers Tuesday night in Sunrise. Yet, Bruce Cassidy only has minor changes in store for a team struggling to put the puck in the net in Patrice Bergeron’s absence. The Black and Gold have only scored three goals on once — Nov. 24 in Montreal — in nine games without their four-time Selke Award winner.
Both Tuukka Rask — who gets the nod against the Lightning — and Jaroslav Halak are giving admirable goaltending performances during this tough stretch. The Bruins D even had a good run without Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo (prior to his return against the Red Wings on Saturday). But the breakdowns on the back-end reared their ugly head to start the Florida trip.
Low-scoring games are the norm for this Bruins squad of late. But they could use a good offensive output — and a better defensive effort — against Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the league-leading Lightning.
Gametime: 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: NESN/98.5 The Sports Hub
Records: Bruins 14-9-4 (32 points), Lightning 21-7-1 (43 points)
Location: Amalie Arena
Bruins projected lines
Brad Marchand-Colby Cave-David Pastrnak
Joakim Nordstrom-David Krejci-Jake DeBrusk
Danton Heinen-Sean Kuraly-David Backes
Ryan Donato-Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson-Noel Acciari
Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
John Moore-Steven Kampfer
Matt Grzelcyk-Jeremy Lauzon
Lightning projected lines
Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-Yanni Gourde
Tyler Johnson-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-J.T. Miller
Mathieu Joseph-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Erik Cernak
Braydon Coburn-Mikhail Sergachev
– Chris Wagner is the odd man out on the Bruins’ bottom six with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson making his return to the lineup. The latter may not be there long after the Bruins claimed forward Gemel Smith (20 points on 11 goals and 9 assists in 77 career games) off waivers on Thursday. The former Dallas Star is another bottom-six forward — who can play both wing and center — with a good mix of energy and physicality. Smith will likely join his new teammates for Friday’s scheduled practice in Brighton. JFK, Noel Acciari and David Backes are all candidates to join Wagner on Level 9 depending on their performance(s) in Tampa.
– Young wingers like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen aren’t delivering on their high and promising expectations. Puck moving defensemen Torey Krug nor Matt Grzelcyk are doing enough in the transition game, either. But the more concerning part here is the lack of scoring production from three healthy core players in Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci.
Marchand and Pastrnak have combined for a mere nine points without Bergeron centering the talented wingers on the top line. Krejci, meanwhile, carries a four-game point drought and hasn’t lit the lamp since Oct. 23. All three are guilty of forcing plays instead of getting pucks deep and the Bruins can’t afford that during this time. The Bruins, who currently hold the top wild-card spot in the East, need more production and leadership from the aforementioned top-six forwards with nine of their next 12 contests coming against teams in the top-8 of their respective conference.