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Bruins eye fourth straight win on push toward playoffs

By Mike Lipka

Stats Writer

Tampa Bay (24-35-17) at Boston (48-17-10), 7:00 p.m. EDT

BOSTON (AP) -- 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 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.

Tim Thomas made 45 saves and Milan Lucic scored twice to spark

Boston. Mark Recchi also scored his fifth goal in the last five


"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


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 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


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 February 22. Bruins backup Manny Fernandez struggled

in that game, allowing four goals on 18 shots.


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