Bruins, Lightning ready for matchup with postseason feel
by Stats.com | FLMon
The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning meet for the third time this season on Monday night, and while very little is at stake in terms of Stanley Cup Playoffs positioning for the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, the intensity level should be through the roof.
In fact, it will probably feel like a playoff game.
After a thoroughly convincing 7-3 win over the Florida Panthers in South Florida on Saturday night, the Bruins (46-20-9) travel to the Sunshine State's west coast for the second time to face Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Boston has split two of the four games in the season series against its Atlantic Division rival. The Bruins fell 3-2 on Dec. 6 in Tampa but rebounded with an impressive 4-1 victory in Boston on Feb. 28.
The home win featured the kind of hype both clubs will likely encounter if they meet up in a conference semifinal.
The likelihood of that is strong considering the quarterfinal matchups: Boston would face the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been beaten three times in four games by the Bruins. Tampa Bay would face the No. 2 wild card, currently held by the Montreal Canadiens.
When the two teams met in Boston on the last night of last month, the success of both led to an NHL record as the encounter marked the first time in league history two clubs with points in at least 14 consecutive games faced each other.
The two teams were a combined 22-0-4 entering the contest. With the 4-1 victory over the Lightning, Boston improved to 11-0-2 in the year's shortest month -- the first time the club went without a regulation loss in a month since November of 2011.
Boston relentlessly went after Florida rookie goalie Sam Montembeault on Saturday, scoring six times on the 22-year-old netminder, and the win secured a playoff spot for the Bruins.
"Clinching playoffs in the new (NHL), it's not easy," said Zdeno Chara, whose second-period tally made him the 22nd NHL defenseman to score 200 goals. "You can see that every year teams are really battling hard for every point to get into the playoffs, and it's a grind."
Even after dropping a tough 4-3 decision to the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday night, the Lightning (58-14-54) remain the standard by which the NHL elite is measured this season.
Winners of this season's Presidents' Cup as the league's top club, Tampa Bay had its seven-game winning streak broken in St. Louis and will finish the season's remaining six contests by playing five playoff clubs.
Brayden Point scored his team-leading 40th goal in St. Louis, and defenseman Victor Hedman had high praise for the 23-year-old center.
"I was there when (Steven Stamkos) scored 50 his second year," Hedman said. "It's special. Pointer's just so much more than just a goal scorer and a playmaker. He's such a good player both ends of the ice and so valuable to our team."
Forward Yanni Gourde will miss his second consecutive game and finish his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Carolina Hurricanes Jordan Staal on Thursday.