By Mike Lipka
Tampa Bay (24-35-17) at Boston (48-17-10), 7:00 p.m. EDT
BOSTON (AP) -- A timely three-game winning streak has given the
Boston Bruins a clear path to the top seed in the Eastern
Now, they just want to make sure they're playing well once they
The Bruins hope this week's three-game homestand will continue
to bring them out of their lengthy slump, and Tuesday night's
matchup with the tumbling Tampa Bay Lightning should provide a
There were times during Boston's recent 6-9-4 stretch that it
looked like the Bruins may fully squander a conference lead that
seemed insurmountable earlier this season.
But a 4-1 win over New Jersey last Sunday put them back on track
heading into a five-day layoff, and a 2-0-0 road trip over the
weekend gave them a seven-point lead over second-place
Washington going into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Boston leads the Devils by eight points and has a game in hand
on both of its closest pursuers.
Still, things were hardly perfect on the Bruins' trip. The team
had problems defensively in both games, winning 7-5 at Toronto
before allowing a season-high 48 shots in Sunday night's 4-3
victory at Philadelphia.
Tim Thomas made 45 saves and Milan Lucic scored twice to spark
Boston. Mark Recchi also scored his fifth goal in the last five
"Offensively we were opportunistic and scored some big goals and
we're getting that part of our game together," Thomas said.
"We're making steps forward in the other direction, but I don't
think anybody thinks that we're completely there. I think it's a
step in the right direction."
The Bruins are still trying to regain the swagger and
consistency that led them to a league-best 24-2-1 mark from Nov.
1-Jan. 1. They scored more than twice as many goals as their
opponents (110-53) during that stretch while converting at 26.7
percent on the power play.
Injuries helped derail the team, but there are still high hopes
that coach Claude Julien's young roster can make a run in the
postseason. The Bruins haven't advanced past the first round
since the 1998-99 season.
Only one major injury lingers for Boston. It's unclear if
leading goal scorer Phil Kessel will return to the lineup
Tuesday after missing the weekend games with an undisclosed
Even without Kessel, Julien was pleased with his team against
"I think our forecheck tonight was better than what we've seen
in a long time," Julien said. "We were much better (than
Saturday) defensively, obviously, and had much fewer breakdowns.
We're establishing ourselves as a four-line team again."
The Lightning have been established as one of the league's worst
teams all season, and little has changed lately as they continue
to struggle with the young goalie tandem of Karri Ramo and Mike
They've lost three straight games, including a 3-0 home defeat
to Ottawa on Sunday. While Ramo gave up three goals for his
fifth straight start, Tampa Bay's skaters were outshot 21-8 in
the second and third periods combined.
"Overall it wasn't one of our better efforts," Lightning forward
Steven Stamkos said.
It's unclear if Ramo will be in net again Tuesday for Tampa Bay
after he made 40 saves in the Lightning's 4-3 home win over
Boston on February 22. Bruins backup Manny Fernandez struggled
in that game, allowing four goals on 18 shots.