NHL Game of Year: Bruins to Take East Lead by Beating Lightning

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 4:05 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2018 4:05 PM UTC

Arguably the biggest game of the 2017-18 regular season is Thursday night from Boston as Tampa Bay visits with the No. 1 seed in the East potentially on the line.

Tampa Bay (106 points) at Boston (105 points)Free NHL Pick: BruinsBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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There are 10 games on Thursday’s NHL schedule, but there’s one that stands out by a mile: Lightning at Bruins with a 7 p.m. ET puck drop. Unfortunately, it’s not on national TV in the USA unless you have NHL Center Ice. It is on TSN in Canada.

The winner Thursday would have the upper hand (temporarily) for the Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Depending what Nashville does the rest of the way, the Presidents’ Trophy also is in play. The Lightning and Bruins do play again on April 3 in Tampa.

Boston would clinch the season series and a potentially huge tiebreaker with a win Thursday as it is 2-0 vs. Tampa Bay this year. On Nov. 29 in Beantown, the Bruins prevailed 3-2. They scored the game’s first three goals and hung on. Boston’s Tuukka Rask faced only 21 shots, while Andrei Vasilevskiy faced 36.

On March 17 in Tampa, the Bruins won 3-0. Rask had 23 saves in the first shutout of the Lightning all season and first time they failed to score since late last regular season, also against Rask. Torey Krug assisted on all three Boston goals. Vasilevskiy stopped 24 shots for the Lightning, whose hadn’t been shut out at home since March 16, 2017.

The road team is 8-3 in the past 11 meetings.

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They Don’t Get Bigger Than This

Tampa Bay has a minor advantage here in that it has been off since Monday – but the Lightning are in a mini-funk as they lost their second straight game that night, 4-1 at home to a terrible Arizona team. Perhaps caught looking ahead to this one? Steven Stamkos was held out with a lower-body injury, no doubt to ensure he would play in this one (he will). In addition, backup netminder Louis Domingue got the call against his former team.

The Lightning’s remaining schedule after Thursday is: at NY Rangers (Friday), vs. Nashville (Sunday), vs. Boston (Tuesday), vs. Buffalo (April 6) and at Carolina (April 7). The Rangers, Sabres and Hurricanes all stink. Tampa still leads the NHL in scoring but has dropped to 13th in goals against. It is 3-4-0 in the last seven games and has allowed three goals or more in five of the seven.

Vasilevskiy had been the Vezina favorite for a while but isn’t likely to win that now considering he has given up at least three goals in seven of his last eight games and in nine of his last 11. Nikita Kucherov led the league in points for much of the season but now finds himself second with 96 behind Connor McDavid. Kucherov could still win the Hart Trophy. Rookie Yanni Gourde (no goals in last nine games) is really struggling and might be hitting a wall.

While the Bruins are a point behind Tampa Bay, Boston has a game in hand. Its remaining schedule after Thursday is: vs. Florida (Saturday), at Philadelphia (Sunday), at Tampa Bay (Tuesday), at Florida (April 5), vs. Ottawa (April 7) and vs. Florida (April 8). So, you’d have to give the slight schedule edge to the Lightning because the Panthers and Flyers are both good.

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Bruce Cassidy, Torey Krug, David Pastrnak, and Anton Khudobin react to tonight's 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets: pic.twitter.com/4bbHaW8qw7

— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 28, 2018

The Bruins completed a four-game road trip on Tuesday with a 5-4 shootout loss in Winnipeg, their fourth game in the past five to at least reach overtime. Boston backup Anton Khudobin was in net, and it surely will be Rask here. Two key injury notes for Thursday as B’s coach Bruce Cassidy hopes to have defensemen Charlie McAvoy (knee) and Zdeno Chara (upper body) back for the game. McAvoy has been out since March 3 and Chara since March 13.

Tampa almost never wins in Boston, going 7-32-4 in the past 43 there. The Bruins, meanwhile, have won 20 of their past 27 overall at TD Garden. Enjoy this playoff-like atmosphere and back Boston for a Thursday NHL pick.

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