BOSTON — The math is pretty simple for both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning when they hit the TD Garden ice on Tuesday night.
A Boston win in regulation and the Bruins are in and the Lightning are … in trouble. Deep trouble.
The Bruins, who have won five in a row, are on the verge of ending their two-year absence from the playoffs.
Among other Atlantic Division contenders Monday night, the Montreal Canadiens won at Florida, and the Toronto Maple Leafs won in Buffalo, but the Ottawa Senators lost in a shootout at Detroit.
So, the Atlantic Division looks like this: The Canadiens are the champs with 101 points. Toronto moved up to second with 93. Ottawa and Boston are tied at 92, but the Senators have a game in hand, leaving the Bruins in a wild-card slot. Tampa Bay trails the Bruins by four points.
“It’s down to win or go home,” defenseman Anton Stralman told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s Game 7.”
It’s not that simple, but let’s just say the Lightning, who are also just two points up on the New York Islanders and have to worry about them as well, need to win Tuesday night’s game — and they come in with a five-game road winning streak.
Boston won back-to-bay matinees over the weekend, defeating the Panthers at home and then going right to Chicago to win a game that actually started in the morning Central time.
“It’s a huge win for us coming off a back-to-back in a tough place to play against a good team, so those are big points for us and we’re happy with the win,” defenseman Kevan Miller said after his unassisted goal turned out to be the winner in Chicago.
After Tuukka Rask beat the Panthers in the Boston goal, Anton Khudobin stepped in and made 41 stops in the 3-2 win in Chicago — his sixth straight victory. Remember, this guy played his way into the minor leagues in the first half of the season, adding to Rask’s workload.
“He’s in there battling, working to find pucks, working to keep it out of the net — whether he has to use his head, his pads, his body, his legs, whatever it is,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said Sunday. “You just can’t say enough. I think the guys responded to him. It’s not that easy when you’re not in there that often.”
The Bruins are 17-7 under Cassidy, 5-0 since a four-game losing streak threatened their season. They have killed 18 of the 19 power plays during their winning streak and 3-for-8 on the power play in the last three.
Since losing to Tampa Bay at home March 23, the Bruins have allowed just six goals in five games. The Lightning, sellers at the trade deadline, started a streak in Boston that has grown to 5-0-1 as they have stayed alive. Included in that streak was coming back from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime.
They have done all this late charging not only without the players they traded off, but also still without their captain and star Steven Stamkos. The world still doesn’t know when, or if, Stamkos will complete his comeback from knee surgery.
They did get Tyler Johnson and Jason Garrison back Sunday, but Garrison was shut down for the third period for fear of pushing his healing leg too far.
“We’ve still got a chance — that’s all we can ask for,” Stralman said. “We believe.”
Even with that recent Tampa Bay victory, the Bruins have won three of the four games between the teams this season. Boston is 8-1 against the two Florida teams.