Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Bruins loading up first line for game vs. Lightning

Ty Anderson
March 17, 2018 - 1:41 pm

In Tampa Bay for what is undoubtedly their most important game of the season, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is going for a load-up on his first line, with David Backes expected to get the nod as the center between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

It’s a move that will bump de facto No. 1 center Riley Nash down to the B’s third line, and is likely done to help address some of that first line’s recent faceoff woes, with Nash winning just 17 of his last 55 battles at the dot (30.9 percent) over the last three games. (Backes, for what it’s worth, enters action winning 53.7 percent of his faceoffs this year.)

Cassidy also seems hopeful that this move will bring some of Backes’ offensive game -- Backes has just one goal and 21 shots in his last eight games -- back to life after an iffy-at-best match penalty knocked him out of Thursday’s 3-0 loss in the first period.

“Backes is fresh right now; Riley's played a lot of hockey,” Cassidy offered when asked about the move. “And maybe it'll get Backes a little motivated, give him some time. He'll probably see the top line, so we'll see how he responds to that. It's just a small tweak, maybe, but it may get David a few more offensive looks as well.”

“It's energizing, knowing you're going to be playing a lot of minutes, seeing their top pair defensemen, their top line,” Backes said. “We're going to have a big challenge, but like we've done all year, we're going to hit it head on, embrace that challenge. We've got good players on this team, too. I'm playing with two really good ones. Our top six, top nine is formidable. We need to act like that and go out there and play our game.”

The only other lineup change comes with Tuukka Rask’s return to the Boston net.

The 31-year-old Rask stopped 29-of-33 shots in a 6-4 win over the Hurricanes on Tuesday before getting a rest this past Thursday, and comes into action with 14 wins (four shutouts) and a .904 save percentage in 21 career games against the Lightning, including a 19-of-21 winning performance against the Bolts back on Nov. 29.

This is also the start of a stretch that will see the Bruins and Lightning clash three times in the next 17 days. The B’s won their only prior head-to-head this season, and come into action with wins in seven of their last nine games against the Lightning.

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