TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning return home from a perfect three-game road trip to host a wounded and angry Boston Bruins team on Thursday.
The first meeting between the teams since last season's second-round playoff matchup, won by Tampa Bay in five games, sees the Bruins coming off a lopsided, 5-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, which forced head coach Bruce Cassidy to put his team on notice for their performance.
"It was men against boys at times out there," Cassidy told The Boston Globe. "We've got young guys. But when you're up here, you've got to make the plays
While Boston continues to be bit by the injury bug, missing defenseman Zdeno Chara, No. 1 center Patrice Bergeron and defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who is practicing with the team but not ready for a return, the Bruins have been able to keep their head above water during the stretch.
However, the 5-0 loss to the Panthers was a bit of setback for a team that continues to hold a playoff position in the top wild-card spot despite one victory in the past four games.
At Wednesday's practice in Tampa, the Bruins shuffled around line combinations, moving around all but the current top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Colby Cave. David Krejci was between Jake DeBrusk and Joakim Nordstrom; rookie Ryan Donato moved to the third line with Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner, while Sean Kuraly was between Danton Heinen and David Backes.
"I know there's a lot of pride and character in the room,'' Cassidy told The Globe. "Some of it's sitting home in Boston right now, unfortunately, but the guys that are in here have to realize that. If your best players aren't your best players, especially now, we're going to have a tough time.''
The Lightning have not had the same problem despite the absence of Vezina Trophy finalist goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, out since Nov. 13 with a fractured foot, and defenseman Anton Stralman, who has missed 13 games with an upper-body injury.
Tampa Bay has posted a 9-2-0 record without Vasilevskiy and enters Tuesday on a four-game winning streak while posting eight wins in the past nine games.
The Lightning have scored five goals in the past four games and continue to get contributions throughout the lineup, with five different players who have already reached double digits in goals and six players who have scored at least 20 points on the season.
"You're getting it from different players all the time," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "And that's a sign good things are probably happening for you."
That type of depth offensively is a big reason why the Lightning are able to withstand the loss of their top goaltender, showing they are capable of winning games when they give up four or five goals in a game, as they have three times in the current winning streak.
"The guys are finding a way,'' Cooper said. "It's not the ideal recipe but the ideal recipe is to win and that's what they'' have done.