No one is going to confuse this current stretch of Boston Bruins games with a playoff series. When the Bruins hit the TD Banknorth Garden ice with the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’ll be the third game in a stretch of six of seven contests against teams with losing records.
The Bruins to this point have managed to not let down — prevailing in the first two match-ups at Tampa Bay and Florida. Once their done with the Lightning tonight, they face the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals Wednesday, but then go back to the lower third of the league for a home-and-home with Atlanta and a home date with Toronto.
This is new territory for the Bruins — as the team that should prevail and looking down at every opponent in the standings. So how the club responds in the next 10 days could be a view into where the team will be in the months ahead.
Player to Watch: When last spring’s trade deadline approached, and again when free agency opened in July, some thought forward Ryan Malone might be a good fit in black and gold. A rugged forward with plenty of size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), he seemed to fit the bill of what the Bruins were looking for going into the offseason. After a trade of his rights from Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay, Malone opted to re-sign with the Lightning — and he’s had mixed results. Although he’s averaged a point per game over the last 10 Lightning contests, he’s only put up 7-5-12 totals in 21 games. And, of course, he’s playing for a team that sits 15th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. Against Boston last week, he started the night on the Tampa Bay top line before he was relegated to third-line status. Obviously, the move to Florida has been no vacation for Malone, a Pittsburgh native who might be finding out that sometimes there really is no place like home.
What they’re writing: Damian Cristodero in the St. Pete Times reports on Lightning goaltender Mike Smith trying to quiet down.
Quotable: Bruins head coach Claude Julien can tell his players are enjoying this stretch of eight wins in nine games (and just four regulation losses in 26 games for that matter). But he knows it’s a fine line between fun and getting to full of oneself.
“Any time you win at the rate that we’re winning, it becomes a lot of fun. But at the same time I think we’ve found that balance that exists between having fun and being focused and working hard during the game. From a coach’s point of view, our coaching staff here, we’re just not allowing them to get soft or lackadaisical out there. If they have a bad game or some bad shifts, they’re in there looking at it. We’re just trying to keep our team sharp and alert, trying to prevent the fact that we can start sliding the other way too.”