After coming away with mostly disappointing results through the first four stops on their five-game road trip, the Boston Bruins have a chance to end the swing on a positive note.
The Bruins conclude their road stretch Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum, where they’ve won six of their last seven meetings with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Boston (40-11-8) leads the Eastern Conference with 88 points, one fewer than league-best San Jose which doesn’t play again until Monday night.
One contributor to the Bruins’ stunning success has been their play on the road. Boston had won 11 of 12 from Dec. 12-Feb. 5 to move to 20-5-3.
But they’re just 1-2-1 on this trip, dropping the first two contests before Tuesday’s 5-1 win over Carolina. Boston failed to make it two in a row with Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Florida – its second whitewash in four games.
“As the game went we got sloppier and sloppier,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “There comes a time in the season where you have to convince your guys to start doing the dirty work. Maybe things have been too good for us, maybe it’s time we got our noses dirty again.”
Despite their recent struggles, the Bruins still have the league’s best road record at 21-7-4. Also, Julien’s club may not have to work as hard to get past Tampa Bay (19-28-12), which has the third-fewest points in the East with 50.
Boston has won 12 of its last 15 against the Lightning, outscoring them 59-43. Phil Kessel has contributed to both wins this season, scoring twice in a 3-1 road victory on Dec. 4 and a goal with an assist in a 5-3 home win four days later.
Kessel, first on the Bruins with 24 goals and third with 44 points, has recorded six of his nine career points against the Lightning in Tampa.
Playing at home has been a struggle recently for the Lightning, who’ve been outscored 12-6 during a three-game losing streak to fall to 10-12-8 there.
Things weren’t much better on the road on Friday in 4-1 loss to Carolina. The Lightning didn’t have a shot through the first 14 minutes en route to being outshot 14-1 in the first period. Their 13 shots for the game were the lowest in more than seven years.
It was Tampa Bay’s fourth straight defeat overall, dropping it to 2-7-2 since winning a season high-tying three in a row from Jan. 19-27.
“I can’t imagine being any more down than this,” said center Jeff Halpern, who assisted on Vaclav Prospal’s goal early in the second period. “Anytime you lose and you’re not in the playoffs, it’s a miserable feeling.”
Rookie Mike McKenna was the lone bright spot, stopping 37 shots only to lose for the third time in four starts. It’s unclear if McKenna or Karri Ramo – 0-3-1 with a 4.50 goals-against average in his last five games – will make his first career appearance versus the Bruins.
Boston’s goaltending situation is also uncertain. Thomas, the Bruins’ starter in three of the last four games, has played both times against the Lightning this season and is 6-3-0 with a 2.66 GAA in nine career contests against them, while Manny Fernandez is 1-2-0 with a 3.03 GAA in three overall matchups.