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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Lightning, Thursday March 25th

Fresh off two huge wins over New York and Atlanta, the Bruins (33-27-12) will hope to keep their winning juices flowing tonight at the Garden when they open up a three-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Lightning (29-32-12). Tampa Bay currently finds themselves with an eight-point deficit to make up if they have their eye on a playoff spot, as they sit at 12th in the Eastern Conference. Boston, on the other hand, now has a three-point advantage over Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff seed, with eyes on leaping over Philadelphia for the #7 spot if they can earn two points with a win tonight.

Let’s zoom in and take a closer look at tonight’s skate with “the ‘Ning”…

  • Tonight marks the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two squads. Boston has taken two of three thus far, most recently squeaking out a 5-4 win in Tampa last month. The B’s came out to a 5-0 lead in that one, only to let Tampa right back into the game, little by little.
  • League-wide tonight, the NHL’s new policy on blindsided head shots will go into effect. The Competition Committee and Board of Governors have fast-tracked this rule, giving them the ability to further discipline players (like Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke) who hit another player’s head from behind.
  • Along with Savard’s concussion, center Vladimir Sobotka will be out of action tonight with a head injury of his own. In the opening minutes of Tuesday’s win over Atlanta, Sobotka left the game with the boo-boo, never to return. Trent Whitfield has been called up from Providence to replace him, and will likely center the third line with Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan. For Tampa, injuries to defenseman Mattias Ohlund (ankle) and forward Ryan Malone (knee, upper body) will sideline that pair this evening.
  • All signs point to a pair of Finns in goal this evening, with the league’s leading GAA and save pct. man, Tuukka Rask (18-10-4, 2.02GAA) opposing fellow countryman Antero Niittymaki (19-16-5, 2.72GAA). Niittymaki was pulled after giving up four early goals against Boston in their last meeting in Tampa last month, but in Boston, Niittymaki’s success rate is altogether different, with a 4-0-0 record and a 1.35GAA mark to his credit. Niittymaki is backed up by Mike Smith (10-16-7, 3.12GAA).
  • Tampa Bay, losers of five straight before Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the ‘Canes, hadn’t scored more than two goals in any of those five previous losses. The struggling offense is led by winger Martin St. Louis (26G, 59A, 5th in the NHL in points), young center Steven Stamkos (43G, 41A, 3rd in goals, 6th in points), and veteran Vincent Lecavalier (22G, 43A). Behind that trio though, scoring is very hard to come by.
  • One guy who can provide some pop, in more ways than one, for the ‘Ning is winger Steve Downie. Downie, fresh off his 20th goal on the year, is now the fifth guy in league history to put up a 20-goals, 200-penalty minutes season, and the first to do it since Theo Fleury accomplished the feat with the Rangers, back in 2001-02. The B’s should keep their eye on the bruising scorer, as he notched two of those 20 goals in his last game against Boston.
  • The Bruins need to get their power play re-energized, plain and simple. They have gone scoreless on the man-advantage in their last seven games, and have posted a 1-for-21 mark since Marc Savard’s injury earlier this month.
  • And another thing… winning at home. It hasn’t been easy. Boston has just two wins on home ice in their last 13 Garden skates. With six of their final 10 games on Causeway St., home cooking has to be good cooking from here on in.
  • And lastly, let’s give a big shout-out to the men’s hockey teams at Boston College, University of Vermont, and University of New Hampshire, as they represent Hockey East in the NCAA tournament beginning this weekend. B.C. is one of four top seeds, playing their tournament games in Worcester, while Vermont and UNH will have a tougher road to the top as underdogs from beginning to end. Notably absent from this year’s tournament are the reigning champion B.U. Terriers. The real question though is…who’s going to miss them?

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