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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Lightning, Tuesday December 28th

Don’t look now, but the Boston Bruins (19-11-4) are in first place atop the Northeast Division! Well, tied with Montreal, but they have two games in hand on the Habs, so the B’s have the top spot technically to themselves.

The same can be said for tonight’s opponent, with the Tampa Bay Lightning (21-10-5) also in a tie atop their division with the Capitals, each team with 47 points. Like Boston, Tampa Bay also has two games on hand on the Caps. Oddly enough, the Caps host Montreal this evening, while the ‘Ning host the B’s.

There is plenty to get to before tonight’s tilt with Tampa, so let’s get right to the pre-game news and notes…

– This is the second leg of Boston’s five-game road trip that began last night on the other side of the Sunshine State, with a 3-2 shootout win over the Panthers. It was Boston’s first shootout win in four tries this season, with Blake Wheeler nudging the puck past Florida’s Scott Clemmensen for the only goal of the shootout, giving the B’s a hard-earned two points in the standings.

– Tampa comes into tonight’s game as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Winners of six of their last seven games, the ‘Ning are coming off a 3-2 overtime win of their own, this past Sunday against Atlanta. The Lightning now have points in eight straight games, which is the franchise’s longest such streak since February of 2004. Their games have reached overtime in six of those eight games.

– These two teams have split the first two meetings this season, with each winning on home ice. Tampa took a 3-1 victory over Boston back on 11/22, with the B’s pummeling the Lightning 8-1 at TD Garden back on 12/2.

– Tampa has one of the league’s best records on home ice, boasting a 10-2-2 record thus far this season.

– The Lightning are led by a pair of high-flying forwards, with young centerman Steven Stamkos leading the way. Stamkos currently ranks second in the NHL in points (50) and goals (28), trailing only Sidney Crosby in both categories. He is followed up by winger Martin St. Louis (14G, 33A), who ranks third in points (47) and second in assists. He has 10 points (3G, 7A) in his last five games.

– Winger Steve Downie remains out with a sprained ankle for Tampa, while goalie Mike Smith also has been sidelined with a sprained knee. Defenseman Randy Jones will be a game-time decision tonight, as he nurses an upper-body injury.

– With Smith shelved for the time being, Tampa will start Dan Ellis in net for the fifth straight game. Ellis (11-5-5, 2.98GAA) is 3-0-1 in his four straight starts heading into tonight.

– Tim Thomas started last night’s game against Florida, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tuukka Rask get the nod tonight on the second of back-to-back games. That being said, the team did not have a full morning skate today, so knowing exactly who will be in goal tonight is nothing more than a coin flip right now. My money’s on Rask, though.

– We’ll see some of the league’s top specialty units on display this evening, with Tampa’s power play ranked third-best at 23.9%, and Boston’s penalty-killing unit ranked second at 87.0%.

– Lastly, just a programming note… tonight’s game will be Jack Edwards-less, as the game will not be on NESN. Instead, you can find it on Versus, beginning at 7:30pm.

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