Bruins look to cool Lightning
|02.11.10 at 11:14 am ET|
The Bruins know the recipe that will take to climb back into solid playoff contention — goal scorers doing their job, streaky shooting and a hot goaltender to carry the load. It is an easy formula that can propel a team on long streaks that eventually lead to extended spring hockey.
For an example, the Bruins only need to look across to the other bench on Thursday to the Lightning. Tampa Bay has won four in a row and is 10-1-2 in its last 13 games to pull itself out of the Eastern Conference basement to be tied for the seventh and eighth playoff spots with Philadelphia. With 63 points the Lightning stand two ahead of the ninth-place Bruins.
Antero Niittymaki is on fire. The Tampa goaltender is 7-0-1 in his last eight games with a 1.09 goals against average and a .965 save percentage. Thought Tuukka Rask was playing well for the Bruins? Rask is 2-0-2 on his current point streak and and his 2.01 goals against for the season is second in the NHL but Niittymaki has been the best goaltender in the NHL over the last month.
On the offensive end, the Lightning have been putting up some points behind Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. The duo has propelled Tampa over the last nine games, scoring 16 of its last 22 goals. Stamkos in particular looks impressive. The first overall pick in the 2008 draft already has 33 goals through 58 games this year and another 30 assists on top of that. For a second year player to be able to put up those kind of numbers makes scouts heads turn and gives the denizens of the Tampa area dreams of a superstar in the St. Petersburg Times Forum for years to come. Stamkos has five goals in his last five games.
St. Louis, the wily veteran southpaw forward, also has five goals in the last five games and has 20 goals and 46 assists for the season. His six game-winning goals are good for fifth in the NHL.
Look for Bruins captain Zdeno Chara to be near every time that Stamkos touches a skate to the ice at the Forum on Thursday. Yet, the fun does not stop there. The Lightning are deep with threats on their first two lines with Vincent LeCavalier, Ryan Malone and Alex Tanguay all in the mix. LeCavalier is third on the team in points with 55 (15 goals, 40 assists) and Malone has 21 goals to trail only Stamkos in that department. For a comparison, the lowly Bruins offense has no player with more than 36 points (Patrice Bergeron) or 18 goals (Marco Sturm).
If the Bruins want to really get back into the mess that is the Eastern Conference playoff race, they will have to win games against the teams ahead of them and right now that means cooling down the Lightning. If Boston can claim a regulation two-point victory (something it has only done twice since Jan. 5) it will create a three-way tie for the final spot in the conference and set the Bruins up to rise above the demarcation line if they can claim points against the Panthers on Saturday.