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Opposing teams have had no answers for the surging Boston Bruins lately. That doesn't bode well for the reeling Tampa Bay Lightning.
In a matchup between teams at opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings, the Bruins go for their fifth straight win Monday night when they host the Lightning, who are winless in their last seven games.
Boston (18-4-4) got off to a mediocre start this season before quickly taking over as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. After opening 2-2-3, the Bruins have gone 16-2-1 to claim the best record in the East.
Phil Kessel has keyed Boston's surge, recording a point in 11 straight games, the league's longest active streak. The third-year right wing has scored at least one goal in five straight games, giving him 16 on the season - just three shy of the 19 he scored while playing all 82 games in 2007-08.
Kessel scored a power-play goal in the second period to help Boston to a 4-0 road win over Florida on Saturday night.
"Things are working, things are going to the net," Kessel said. "When you win hockey games, it's always fun. So anytime you win, it's a good time."
Boston goalie Manny Fernandez had to agree after stopping 27 shots Saturday for his first shutout of the season.
"For myself, I couldn't care less," said Fernandez, who's 8-1-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average in 10 games backing up starter Tim Thomas. "I really wanted to get the win. Everybody's pitching in, everybody's giving their 100 percent, everybody's battling, everybody's playing their game every night."
The Lightning (6-12-8) wish they could say the same. They've gone 0-5-2 since their last win Nov. 21 and have only two wins in their last 16 games, a cold stretch that has left them with the fewest points in the NHL.
Tampa Bay rallied from three different one-goal deficits Saturday night, but gave up the last score midway through the third period in a 4-3 loss to Buffalo.
"I think in your life you always have down periods," said interim coach Rick Tocchet, who's 1-5-4 since taking over for the fired Barry Melrose on Nov. 15. "I judge people the way they react after down periods, and that's what we're looking for now. We're looking for people to stand up here and get back on the frontlines. Nobody is going to help us but ourselves."
One way the Lightning can help themselves is by improving their play in close games. In 17 contests decided by one goal this season, Tampa Bay is just 4-5-8.
"Groundhog Day," right wing Martin St. Louis said after Saturday's loss. "You feel sometimes you deserve better, but you know what, maybe we don't. The way it's going, it's draining. Draining physically. Draining mentally."
Tampa Bay's current losing streak includes a 3-1 home loss to Boston on Thursday night. Kessel scored two goals in that game, while Thomas stopped 30 shots to improve to 5-3-0 with a 2.61 GAA lifetime against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith is 1-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA in two career games against Boston.
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