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The surging Boston Bruins cemented their status as one of the NHL's hottest teams with a statement win in their last game.
Now, they'll have to maintain their focus against one of the league's coldest clubs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to snap out of their lengthy funk on Thursday, when the Bruins visit for the first of two meetings in the next five days between the teams.
Few wins during Boston's month-long charge to the top of the Eastern Conference were as impressive as Saturday's 4-1 victory over Detroit, which has the second-best record in the West. Manny Fernandez made 29 saves while the Bruins (16-4-4) chased Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin with three goals on their first nine shots.
Coach Claude Julien's club went 11-1-1 in November, outscoring opponents 51-24, culminating with the win over the defending Stanley Cup champions at the end of a 10-games-in-18-days stretch. The Bruins compiled more points in a single month than they had since December 1978.
"We can beat anybody in this league and we can play against anybody, obviously," captain Zdeno Chara said. "We've got to keep going and we've got to push forward. We can't be satisfied with the results we have."
Those results have been about as good as the young club could have imagined. Behind the top line of Marc Savard, Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic, the Bruins are tied for the East lead with 80 goals, while the team's goalies lead the NHL with a 2.13 goals-against average.
"We've got everybody on the same page and everybody kind of pushing each other," Julien said.
Marco Sturm also may be set to return after missing the last six games with an upper-body injury, but the Bruins will be without defenseman Aaron Ward as he recovers from a leg injury.
They hope he won't be needed against Tampa Bay, which has won just one of its last 11 games (1-6-4) while allowing an average of 3.5 goals.
"When things aren't going well, they really aren't going well," Tampa Bay rookie forward Steven Stamkos said. "It's really tough right now with the way things are going."
The Lightning (6-10-8) have allowed 21 goals during their current five-game losing streak - their third such skid this season. Their latest loss was a 4-3 overtime defeat at Philadelphia on Tuesday night, as they came back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period but lost on Mike Richards' winner 2:05 into the extra session.
Tampa Bay outshot the Flyers 38-32, but Ryan Malone missed on a penalty shot in the closing seconds of regulation, ending his streak of four straight games with a goal. Vincent Lecavalier's seven-game point streak also came to a close.
"It's frustrating, but it's a fine line," Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet said. "When you're losing, it gets a little contagious, so you need some kind of break to get some kind of winning streak."
Ending the slide Thursday may mean a bit more for one member of the Tampa Bay staff. Assistant coach Mike Sullivan, rehired by the Lightning last week, was Boston's head coach from 2003-06, but was let go by current Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.
The teams meet again in Boston on Monday, with each playing another game in between.
By the Associated Press with edits by BostonBruins.com
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