The Boston Bruins (37-19-7) return home from their epic road trip to welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of the fan friendlies at the TD Garden.

The Boston Bruins have been the consummate road warriors this season and sent a message to the rest of the league, with a 6-0 road trip north of the border, that your home ice advantage is theirs too.  Not since the days of the Big Bad Bruins, circa 1971-1972, have the Bruins had a 6-0 road trip.  Coincidentally, that is the last time the Stanley Cup came to Boston. 

Boston Bruins

Perhaps the best thing the Bruins fans could do is show up in Lightning jerseys and boo every time Boston scores a goal.  The Bruins are 15-12-3 at home compared to 22-7-4 on the road, and last time they skated on Garden ice they suffered through one of their most uninspired performances of the season in a 4-3 loss to the marginal Toronto Maple Leafs. 

That’s when coach Claude Julien realized his 36 year old netminder was getting overworked and flat out worn down.  So, he put his faith in back-up Tuukka Rask and his confidence has been rewarded.  Rask has gotten into a groove with consecutive starts and when Tim Thomas did return he looked sharp and refreshed in the Bruins most impressive win of the season, downing the league leading Vancouver Canucks 3-1 in their own building. 

Southeast division leaders, the Tampa Bay Lightning, sport an identical record to the Boston Bruins, 37-19-7 and have tuned into the good vibrations at home (21-7-4) but tuned out when on the road (16-12-3).  Tampa’s Steve Stamkos, a 21 year old wunderkind, is the top gun in the NHL collecting 41 goals through 63 games. 

Though Stamkos has had his share of success against the Bruins, tallying 8 points in his last five games against Boston, he has gone cold recently with only one goal over his last eight games.  The Lightning dropped a 2-1 decision to the Devils last night in a game that NHL odds makers had expected them to loose, but lacked the offensive power to reach the total of 5 goals. They hope to rebound in Boston as they wrap up their three game northeast road trip. 

Thursday night’s face off at the Garden will feel more like a playoff game and less like just another regular season game late in the season.  Both division leaders are knotted with 81 points and hoping to secure at least a 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference with a very real possibility of catching the number one seeded Philadelphia Flyers

The Bruins have won two of three against the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and the last time these teams tangled in Boston, the Bruins left the paying customers satisfied with a dominating 8-1 victory.  Their last tango was in Tampa where the Bruins again managed a win only this time it was a hotly contested 4-3 decision and far from the lopsided victory they delivered in Boston. 

While the Lightning were playing and losing last night, the Bruins were resting their road weary bones.  The last game of their historic road trip highlighted a very tired team as they managed to scrape by the lowly Senators with a 1-0 win, courtesy of Nathan Horton and a sensational 33 save shutout performance by Tuukka Rask. 

The new cast of Bruins led by All-Star defenseman Tomas Kaberle should energize the new look Bruins and though their record has been unspectacular in Boston this season, even road warriors like to come home every now and again.  NHL bettors should back the Bruins to bask in what will surely be a rousing ovation by the home crowd and deliver yet another victory over the stumbling Tampa Bay Lightning.