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As reigning Cup champs, Lightning look to strike against the Bruins

Tampa Bay will be without two of its stars, somewhat offsetting the absence of Boston's Brad Marchand.

Joel Auerbach
The Lightning, with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman (77), and Nikita Kucherov (86), have what is likely the most dangerous power play in the NHL.

As the NHL’s two-time reigning champions, the Lightning can be considered the league’s best measuring stick. And as their team slogs its way through an uneven start, Bruins fans are probably eager to see how their team stacks up against elite competition.

Unfortunately, they might not be able to glean much from the season’s first matchup with Tampa Bay.

The Lightning will be missing two of their best players when they visit TD Garden, with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point both still recovering from injuries that’ll cost each at least a month. And on top of that, the Bruins will be without Brad Marchand, who’ll still be serving his three-game suspension for slew-footing by the time the Lightning arrive.

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Not that Tampa is a slouch, even without two of its top forwards. Steven Stamkos looks healthy again, as the captain led his team with 24 points over its 12-5-2 start, and any Boston fan who watched Tampa trounce the Bruins in the Toronto bubble a couple years ago needs no reminder of just how good defenseman Victor Hedman is. Through 20 games the former Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe Award winner was leading the team in ice time, assists, and hits — a combination that speaks to the omnipresence of his skill set.

The Lightning play a brand of hockey that’s worth the price of admission — which entered December north of $100 on the secondary market — and even if this game may not be one by which the Bruins should measure themselves, it’s one that could carry implications down the line. A quarter of the way through the season, the Lightning held the Atlantic Division’s third playoff spot; that’s territory the Bruins are likely to be trying to reach come the spring, and if Toronto and Florida follow through on their hot starts, Tampa Bay could be a team the B’s are contending with for a playoff spot.

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