A timely three-game winning streak has given the Boston Bruins a clear path to the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Now, they just want to make sure they’re playing well once they get there.
The Bruins hope this week’s three-game homestand will continue to bring them out of their lengthy slump, and Tuesday night’s matchup with the tumbling Tampa Bay Lightning should provide a good opportunity.
There were times during Boston’s recent 6-9-4 stretch that it looked like the Bruins (48-17-10) may fully squander a conference lead that seemed insurmountable earlier this season.
But a 4-1 win over New Jersey last Sunday put them back on track heading into a five-day layoff, and a 2-0-0 road trip over the weekend gave them a seven-point lead over second-place Washington going into the final two weeks of the regular season. Boston leads the Devils by eight points and has a game in hand on both of its closest pursuers.
Still, things were hardly perfect on the Bruins’ trip. The team had problems defensively in both games, winning 7-5 at Toronto before allowing a season-high 48 shots in Sunday night’s 4-3 victory at Philadelphia.
“Offensively we were opportunistic and scored some big goals and we’re getting that part of our game together,” Thomas said. “We’re making steps forward in the other direction, but I don’t think anybody thinks that we’re completely there. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
The Bruins are still trying to regain the swagger and consistency that led them to a league-best 24-2-1 mark from Nov. 1-Jan. 1. They scored more than twice as many goals as their opponents (110-53) during that stretch while converting at 26.7 percent on the power play.
Injuries helped derail the team, but there are still high hopes that coach Claude Julien’s young roster can make a run in the postseason. The Bruins haven’t advanced past the first round since the 1998-99 season.
Only one major injury lingers for Boston. It’s unclear if leading goal scorer Phil Kessel will return to the lineup Tuesday after missing the weekend games with an undisclosed ailment.
Even without Kessel, Julien was pleased with his team against the Flyers.
“I think our forecheck tonight was better than what we’ve seen in a long time,” Julien said. “We were much better (than Saturday) defensively, obviously, and had much fewer breakdowns. We’re establishing ourselves as a four-line team again.”
The Lightning (24-35-17) have been established as one of the league’s worst teams all season, and little has changed lately as they continue to struggle with the young goalie tandem of Karri Ramo and Mike McKenna.
They’ve lost three straight games, including a 3-0 home defeat to Ottawa on Sunday. While Ramo gave up three goals for his fifth straight start, Tampa Bay’s skaters were outshot 21-8 in the second and third periods combined.
“Overall it wasn’t one of our better efforts,” Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said.
It’s unclear if Ramo will be in net again Tuesday for Tampa Bay after he made 40 saves in the Lightning’s 4-3 home win over Boston on Feb. 22. Bruins backup Manny Fernandez struggled in that game, allowing four goals on 18 shots.