There are varied opinions as to when this condensed NHL season really ramps up in intensity. For the Bruins, a case could be made for Thursday night at Tampa Bay, where the Black and Gold will bid adieu to their last true period of rest before the schedule becomes a daunting one.
Boston enters Thursday having played an NHL-low 13 games. For the next two-plus months, the Bruins will have zero three-day layoffs like the one they were afforded following Sunday’s 3-2 win in Winnipeg. In fact, they will only have two two-day layoffs, four sets of back-to-backs and a steady stream of every-other-nights.
It’s most definitely not a great time for everyone to get queasy.
Yet, at Tuesday’s practice in Wilmington, seven players sat due to flu-like symptoms, including Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton. Head coach Claude Julien hopes to have everyone available when the team lands in the Sunshine State on Wednesday, but is ready to make some changes, if necessary.
“We’re hoping that it’s a short-term thing, which it seems to be,” Julien told reporters Tuesday when asked if any reinforcements will be needed. “But if that’s the case then we’ll have to deal with that probably tomorrow.”
At the very least, Milan Lucic was back at practice after missing a game for personal reasons. Although Boston survived a tight affair with the Jets on Sunday, there were times when it was the lesser team physically, getting outhit 25-21. Lucic, the team leader in hits and penalty minutes, will add some much-needed aggression against the Lightning’s slew of scorers; Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis entered Tuesday tied for third in the league with 21 points, Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell were tied for 17th.
The B’s are no strangers to seeing lamps lit in Tampa Bay. Including the last two games in Tampa Bay Times Forum during the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, Boston has given up at least five goals in its last four games there. The last of those was a 6-1 setback on March 13 in which Stamkos scored twice to reach the 50-goal mark for the second time in his career.
Tuukka Rask, who made 22 saves against Winnipeg, will most certainly be in net; backup Anton Khudobin was one of the “Sickly Seven” at Tuesday’s practice. Rask is 3-0-1 with a 1.75 GAA on the road this season.
The game pits the Bruins’ league-leading penalty kill (94.1 percent) against Tampa Bay’s third-ranked power-play unit (26.3 percent entering Tuesday).