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The Bruins (11-5-2) hit the Sunshine State for a pair of pre-Turkey Day games this week, starting Monday night at the St. Pete Times Forum against the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-7-2).
Boston had their three-game win streak snapped Saturday night, losing to the L.A. Kings in a shootout 4-3. The Kings opened up a 3-0 lead early, only to have the Bruins fight all the way back to tie it and send the game to OT. After going goalless in the extra time, it took six rounds of the shootout before L.A. sent the B’s packing, with Michal Handzus beating Tim Thomas stick side for the game winner.
Tampa’s riding a three-game win streak of their own, returning home Monday after sweeping their trio of road games last week. Saturday, they edged Buffalo 2-1, a stark contrast from Thursday’s win, a wild 8-7 goalfest in Philly.
These two teams are off to very good starts so far, so let’s jump into some pregame notes before the two squads square off Monday evening…
– The B’s and the ‘Ning split their four games last season, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
– If the playoffs started today (and I know they don’t start any time soon), these two teams would square off against each other in the first round, as the 4 vs. 5 matchup in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 24 points, with Boston having two games in hand over Tampa.
– When you talk about the Lightning, the conversation has to start with early MVP front-runner Steven Stamkos. The young centerman leads the NHL with 19 goals and 34 points through just 20 games. He was held without a point for just the third time this season during Saturday’s win over the Sabres. Behind Stamkos on the stat sheet is winger Martin St. Louis (8G, 18A), who sits in a tie for third in points across the NHL. Other than these two powerhouses, no one has more than 12 points on Tampa.
– Team captain Vincent Lecavalier will remain out of action Monday with a right hand injury. Also sidelined is former Flyer Simon Gagne (neck) and defenseman Matt Smaby (ankle). For Boston, Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, and Trent Whitfield remain on injured reserve.
– According to reports from the team’s early morning skate, the B’s will start Tuukka Rask in goal Monday evening against the ‘Ning. Rask last saw action on Thursday when he recorded his first win of the year, a 4-0 shutout of the Florida Panthers.
– Tampa’s goalie situation is truly a goalie-by-committee situation. Their two netminders are nearly minute for minute in terms of playing time, with Dan Ellis (5-4-2, 2.81GAA) slightly ahead of Mike Smith (6-3-0, 3.38GAA). Smith did start in Saturday’s game, so if I were a betting man, maybe I’d put a minimum bet on Ellis getting the nod Monday.
– Monday’s match-up will feature two of the league’s top penalty-killing units, with Boston (89.9%) currently ranked second in the NHL and Tampa right behind them in third (89.0%). Montreal has the top spot… for now.
– Lastly, a quick programming note… Monday’s game can be found on Versus at a 7:30pm start time, not on NESN. Sorry, all you Jack Edwards fans.