The Boston Bruins have floundered down the stretch as they head into their sixth straight postseason appearance, with many of their missteps coming against teams out of playoff contention.
They'll try to clean up their sloppy play against another opponent well behind them in the standings Thursday night as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins (27-13-5) sit second in the Eastern Conference and at the top of the Northeast Division with 59 points. Montreal also has the same amount of points but Boston currently owns the tiebreaker with a game in hand.
But while the Bruins have already clinched a playoff berth, they haven't exactly seized the chance to secure their seeding, dropping five of six.
Three of the last four losses - including Tuesday's 5-2 defeat at Philadelphia - have come against teams already eliminated from playoff contention. Thursday's matchup is another one as Tampa Bay trails Boston by 19 points. The Bruins' two other remaining games won't be against pushovers, though, as they take on Southeast Division champion Washington and playoff-hopeful Ottawa.
"We're running out of time here to get this stuff going," coach Claude Julien told the team's official website. "You always hope it's some sort of wake up call, but the way the season's gone, you're questioning whether you will or not. Only time will tell."
Giveaways continue to plague the Bruins of late, as they're averaging 11.2 per game over the last six compared to 8.3 on the season. Their two highest single-game totals this year have come in the last two games. The Bruins coughed up the puck 16 times against the Flyers and 20 times Sunday against league-worst Florida, though they still claimed a 3-0 victory.
It didn't take long for one of those errors to bite them Tuesday as a turnover ended up as a goal for Philadelphia only 1:40 in.
"Just really poor puck management tonight and poor decision making," Julien said. "To me, that's a reflection of guys not being ready to play. At some point, they've got to take the accountability of being ready."
The Lightning (18-24-4) will miss the postseason for a second straight year after they were mathematically eliminated last week. They did, however, just knock off a playoff-bound team Wednesday, putting a six-game skid to rest with a 5-2 home win over Toronto.
Martin St. Louis recorded his seventh career hat trick and improved his point total to a league-leading 58, as he seeks his second scoring title and first since 2004.
"To see what he does, it doesn't amaze me, but it amazes a lot of people," said teammate Steven Stamkos, who scored his 29th goal. "I'm pretty fortunate to be able to see him every day and see how hard he works and how much he wants to be the best player that he can be."
Stamkos has scored seven goals in his last five games against Boston with at least one in each.
The Bruins are aiming for their first season sweep of the Lightning in six years after winning the first two meetings.
Boston has outscored Tampa Bay 22-7 during a five-game home win streak in the series.
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