Bruins-Lightning Preview

The Associated Press

Slow starts recently have doomed the Boston Bruins, who are clinging to a slim lead in the Northeast Division.

The Tampa Bay Lightning recently surged into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but now find themselves trying to halt a slide of their own.

Each team looks to end its slump Tuesday night when Boston visits Tampa Bay.

The Bruins and Lightning went to seven games in last season's conference finals, with Boston winning and eventually claiming the Stanley Cup. Neither team is currently playing like it's ready to repeat its 2011 postseason run.

The Bruins (40-25-3) have allowed the first goal in six straight games, and fell behind 3-0 in the first period of a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. They've dropped four of those six contests as their division lead has dwindled to two points over Ottawa.

Captain Zdeno Chara said Boston can't afford to continue playing from behind off the bat.

"It's something we need to get better at," Chara told the team's official website. "Trying to block shots, guys trying to get into lanes - we have to find a way to do better job. It's tough when you're behind right away, and then try to catch up."

The Bruins are also struggling on special teams, with the power play going 1 for 22 over the last eight games while the penalty kill has allowed six goals during that stretch.

Possibly making matters worse is the uncertain status of Patrice Bergeron, who left Sunday's loss in the second period with a lower-body injury. Coach Claude Julien said his center is a game-time decision.

"I'm doing better than (Sunday). I guess right now it's day-to-day and we'll see what it feels like (Tuesday)," said Bergeron, Boston's assist leader with 36.

The Lightning have their own issues.

Tampa Bay (31-30-7) won seven of nine Feb. 16-March 3, but has since lost three straight including a 4-2 defeat to Carolina on Saturday to begin a season-high seven-game homestand.

Despite having slipped seven points behind eighth-place Washington, coach Guy Boucher maintains his squad has been playing well overall.

"Guys are feeling good and they're upbeat," Boucher told the Lightning's official website. "The last two games, our game has been raised to the highest it can be. We haven't given a lot of chances to the opponent and I think that created a lot of momentum, but yeah, our game has been elevated."

Boucher may be relying too heavily on his stars, however.

Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos each finished with regular-season career highs in ice time Saturday, as St. Louis played nearly 30 minutes and Stamkos registered 27:31.

"It was way too much. We had to, but we can't keep this up for the rest of the year," Boucher said. "I'm going to have to rely on some other guys. I can't ask any more of them."

Dustin Tokarski will be in net Tuesday for the third straight game after making 22 saves Saturday. It's unclear who will be in goal for Boston, though veteran free agent pickup Marty Turco stopped 20 of 22 shots in his first NHL action this season after Tim Thomas was pulled following the first period Sunday.

These clubs have split their first two meetings of 2011-12, with the home team winning each. David Krejci, who scored twice against Pittsburgh, netted a goal in the Bruins' 4-1 win Oct. 8, and Stamkos scored in Tampa Bay's 5-3 victory Jan. 17.

Including postseason, the Lightning have won three straight home games versus Boston - scoring five goals in each of them.

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