The Bruins (19-11-7) will aim to sweep their brief two-game jaunt through the Sunshine State, as they face the Tampa Bay Lightning (14-15-9) this evening.
Boston, coming off a sharp 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday, will be looking for their fourth consecutive win, a mark they have reached just once this season. Tampa Bay, who has struggled from the outset, is starting to right the ship as of late, winning three of their last four games, including a 4-3 win over Atlanta on Saturday.
Here now, a closer look at the two squads heading into tonight’s matchup…
In the first meeting between the B’s and the ‘Ning earlier this month, Boston was able to run away with a 4-1 home win.
Tim Thomas, who made 25 saves in one of his more impressive showings yesterday at Florida, will likely be back in net this evening to face Tampa Bay. Many who cover the team believed this pair of back-to-back games would be split between Thomas and Tuukka Rask, but indications from the morning skate point to Thomas starting for the second straight night.
In the other crease tonight, all signs point to Mike Smith (7-10-6, 3.12GAA) getting the nod for Tampa Bay. Antero Niittymaki (7-5-4, 2.46GAA), Tampa’s other goaltender on the roster, did not dress for Saturday’s game with Atlanta, due to personal reasons. Smith was backed up by Riku Helenius. This morning though, Helenius was returned to the minors, indicating Niittymaki should be available for the game.
Scoring for the ‘Ning is led by former University of Vermont Catamount Martin St. Louis, whose 35 assists are good for third in the NHL. St. Louis, who has seven goals to go along with those 35 assists, is currently on a four-game points streak, with a goal and six assists in that time. Following St. Louis is veteran center Vincent Lecavalier (9G, 27A), who also is riding a four-game points streak of his own, with an identical 1G-6A stat line during the streak. After that on the stat sheet, you’ll find second-year center Steven Stamkos (21G, 15A) and winger Ryan Malone (19G, 16A).
On the injury front, Boston welcomed Milan Lucic to this morning’s pre-game skate. Lucic, who is coming back from a high ankle sprain, hopes to see some game action leading up to Friday’s Winter Classic game at Fenway. Defenseman Mark Stuart remains sidelined with a broken sternum, and should be back in about a month. For Tampa, they will be without defensemen Paul Ranger and Matt Walker, and forwards Jeff Halpern and Todd Fedoruk, all who are currently on injured reserve.
Lastly, the Swedish Olympic hockey team announced their roster for the upcoming games in Vancouver this February. On it, Tampa Bay defenseman Mattias Ohlund. Not on it, former long-time Bruin P.J. Axelsson. Axelsson, who is playing in his native Sweden this season, was a member of the 2006 Olympic team that won the gold over rival Finland. As for the U.S. team, the roster is to be announced during NBC’s telecast of the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.