Five things to know for tonight’s Bruins game at Tampa Bay
TAMPA — Maybe this will be another Buffalo. Perhaps the Bruins will have a bounce-back effort like Oct. 4, when they shut out the Sabres one night after they were cannon fodder for the Capitals’ Stanley Cup banner celebration.
Now, the Lightning are not the Sabres, who were out of sorts when the Bruins spoiled their home opener, and this is not October. The season well past its one-third mark, Tampa is playing well enough — 27-7-1, NHL-best 43 points, 8-2 in their last 10 — and Boston is missing enough key pieces that even its ‘A’ game may not be enough to win here.
But maybe the Bruins (14-9-4, 32 points, first wild card) have a surprise in store. Maybe Thursday will be a reference point, a character win, a night where they get enough goaltending and fortunate breaks to steal one — or just flat-out earn it -- by any measure securing two of the toughest points of the first half.
Despite a rotating cast of injured players that currently includes Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller, the Bruins had not lost back-to-back games in regulation before Saturday (4-2, for their first home loss to Detroit since 2013) and Tuesday (5-0 at Florida, their second-most lopsided setback of the year; they lost 7-0 at Washington on opening night).
The Bruins have scored 15 goals in their last nine games, a stretch that encompasses the absences of Bergeron and Chara (and McAvoy, the wunderkind 20-year-old blue liner who is skating with the team as he tries to return from his first known concussion).
“The biggest thing is to stay confident,” winger Jake DeBrusk said. “We’ve been getting some unlucky bounces, some guys are gripping their sticks a little too tightly. I’ve had a Grade-A chance every game. … It’s a matter of believing you can do it, and burying it.”
Tampa knows it can. The Bolts are by far the league’s highest-scoring team (114 goals; Toronto and Colorado are next at 102).
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (DND the last three games) will go in for Chris Wagner. He will center the third line, with Ryan Donato and Noel Acciari. Defenseman Steven Kampfer will sub in for rookie Connor Clifton.
Rask in net
Bruce Cassidy is expected to call on Tuukka Rask (6-5-2, 2.59, .915), who performed well enough to keep a banged-up squad in it last spring. Tampa brings back much of the same crew that knocked the Bruins out of the second round, 4-1, and aside from a Game 1 in which Rask was stellar (34 saves on 36 shots), largely dominated the Bruins at 5-on-5.
They’ve been good enough to avoid a fall with Vezina-caliber netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy (broken foot) out at least two more weeks. Louis Domingue (11-4-0, 3.14, .900) has been solid in relief.
Thursday starts a divisional 3-in-4, with Toronto (home, Saturday) and Ottawa (road, Sunday) upcoming. Incidentally, the Bruins are 1-3-1 in the opening games of those 3-in-4s, but 3-0-2 in game twos and 3-1-1 in game threes.
Sunday’s tilt in Kanata, Ont. won’t be a friendly one for Boston, which plays at 5 p.m. after hosting the high-powered Leafs the previous evening.
As DeBrusk was chatting with a reporter at practice, at the far end of the visiting locker room, he pointed to the other side, near the door, where Donato was sitting in a stall taking off his skates. Right there, he said, is where he sat six months ago, as the Lightning celebrated their freshly-won berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Any time you see the team that sends you packing for the summer, it still stings,” said team president Cam Neely, who had no trouble finding fire in his playing days. “It should sting a little bit. Even though players change, it’s not the same team on both sides. It brings back memories.”