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Tampa Bay heads to Boston for matchup of East's best

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, two of the NHL's hottest teams, meet on Thursday night at TD Garden in Boston in what could be a preview of an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.

The top two teams in the conference, the Lightning and Bruins also pace the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay (49-11-4) has topped the NHL since early December, and Boston holds second place in the division, leading Toronto by one point after the Maples Leafs' 6-2 rout of the visiting Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.

Boston (37-17-9) has had incredible success since losing leading goal scorer David Pastrnak, who had 31 goals, to a thumb injury on Feb. 11. The top-line right wing suffered the injury at a team sponsorship event and immediately underwent surgery.

General manager Don Sweeney offered a less than encouraging update on Pastrnak's progress on Monday, saying on Twitter of his young winger, "Will be in cast for two more weeks. After that he'll be fitted for a splint, will be a matter of comfort for a return."

But being without the 22-year-old Czech forward has not slowed down the Bruins at all.

Boston, a 4-1 winner over the visiting San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, is 6-0-1 without Pastrnak in the lineup and 10-0-2 in its last 12 games. The Bruins have not lost in regulation since a 3-2 home loss to the New York Rangers on Jan. 19.

However, help has arrived for coach Bruce Cassidy's club as Sweeney made a pair of deals in the days leading up to the trade deadline.

Last week he acquired forward Charlie Coyle, a native of Weymouth, Mass., from the Minnesota Wild for Ryan Donato and a fifth-round pick. Then on Monday as the deadline approached, the club received Marcus Johansson from the New Jersey Devils for second- and fourth-round picks.

Coyle posted 17:14 of time on ice in his Boston debut, going 7-for-11 in faceoffs (63.6 percent), while Johansson played 14:49 and recorded one assist.

Winners of a franchise-best 10 straight, the Lightning (49-11-4) were completely quiet at this season's trade deadline, deciding not to jostle their talented core.

However, that was not the case last season.

The club made a significant trade with the New York Rangers for two of their veterans -- forward J.T. Miller and defenseman Ryan McDonagh. And both former Blueshirts have been key to Tampa Bay's success this season.

Miller scored a power-play goal in the Lightning's 4-3 overtime win over his former club in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, completing the sweep of the three games during the season's series.

"He's moved around the lineup a little bit, but he plays a big role for us in the sense that he plays both units and can play in some big spots," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said of Miller. "He wins draws for us and he can play anywhere up in the lineup and he can play multiple positions so it makes him very valuable."

Cooper thinks trading for Miller and McDonagh will yield rewards, perhaps this postseason.

"We made a big trade last year that made a lot of news, but that trade wasn't only for last year. It was for years to come, and I think we're reaping the benefits of that this year," Cooper said.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 28, 2019

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