The two top teams in the Atlantic Division and the entire Eastern Conference face off in “Beantown” tonight, as the Tampa Bay Lightning (49-11-4, 1st Atlantic) are on the road to face the Boston Bruins (37-17-9, 2nd Atlantic).
These are the two hottest teams in the league right now, as they have been for much of the season. Tampa Bay is currently riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak into tonight’s game. Meanwhile, Boston has a 14-game point streak coming into the game, with their last loss in regulation all the way back on January 19th.
Despite being division rivals, this is only the second meeting between these teams this season, following a 3-2 Tampa Bay victory on December 6th. Tonight, it’s the Bruins who are favored, currently listed at -120.
Shocking the World
While the Lightning were considered one of the league’s best teams going into the season, their complete dominance over the other 30 teams was certainly not expected. At 102 points, they are running away with the points title, 13 points ahead of second place Calgary. There’s an even bigger discrepancy in the East, where there’s a 19-point gap between them and Boston in the division.
During their franchise-record 10-game winning streak, Tampa Bay has scored more than four goals six times, and only scored fewer than four twice. It’s not a huge surprise, as they have the number one offense in terms of goals scored, shooting percentage, and power play percentage. They’re also underrated defenders, ranking fourth in goals allowed and boasting the league’s best penalty kill.
The Lightning are led by NHL points-leader Nikita Kucherov, who already has 104 points. In the last seven games, Kucherov has five goals to go along with 11 assists. In the same time frame, Steven Stamkos (77 points) has three goals and eight assists, while Brayden Point (80 points) has three goals and five assists.
Following three straight starts including an overtime win on Wednesday, Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to take a seat in favor of Louis Domingue. The backup Domingue is 19-4-0, with a 2.86 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
Most teams would start to slump after losing their leading goal-scorer, but not the Bruins. Since David Pastrnak went out with a thumb injury on February 11th, Boston is 6-0-1 and is now ahead of the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic. Overall, they are 10-0-2 in their last 12 games, with points in 14 consecutive matches.
Unlike Tampa Bay, Boston was aggressive at the deadline. They acquired Charlie Coyle from the Wild, and a few days later received Marcus Johansson from the Devils. Those two forwards join a group that ranks just 14th in goals and 21st in shooting percentage but has reached three goals or more all but four times during their point streak. They’re also a strong defensive group, sitting second in goals allowed and ninth in shot allowed.
Pastrnak has a team-high 31 goals and is second in points behind Brad Marchand (74). Patrice Bergeron (57) and David Krejci (55) are among the scoring leaders for Boston, but forward Jake DeBrusk has come on strong as of late, with five goals and three assists over his last six games.
Tuukka Rask will start tonight for the Bruins. The veteran is 20-8-5 with a 2.40 GAA and .920 save percentage.
The two hottest teams in the league will enter, but only one can leave a winner. With an extra day of rest and facing a backup goalie, the Bruins will win the shot battle and ultimately squeak past the Lightning. I’ll take the Bruins to win a close one at home -120.