After playing for a month without their top defensive pairing intact, the Bruins will finally be back to full strength on Tuesday in Tampa. Charlie McAvoy will return from a sprained MCL in his left knee as the B's take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed to reporters after Tuesday's skate that McAvoy will be back in the lineup and will resume his usual spot alongside Zdeno Chara, who just returned on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Even more promising on the injury front is that Rick Nash recently began skating again in Boston. He's been out since suffering an upper-body injury against the Lightning on March 17.
However, Riley Nash remains out. He got 40 stitches on Sunday after a Torey Krug shot struck him in the side of the head. Sean Kuraly (upper-body) is out for Tuesday, and Tommy Wingels (hand) will sit but his injury isn't expected to be long-term. The Bruins called up forward Colby Cave from Providence on an emergency basis, and it appears that he will get his second taste of NHL action this season - he last played for the big club on Dec. 21 against the Jets.
#NHLBruins morning rushes:
Marchand - Bergeron- Pastrnak
DeBrusk - Krejci - Donato
Heinen - Backes - Acciari
Schaller - Cave - Gionta
Chara - McAvoy
Krug - Holden
Grzelcyk - Miller
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 3, 2018
There's also still no further update on Brandon Carlo's injury, but it's likely that the defenseman is out for the season with a fractured fibula.
Here's what else to know about ahead of Tuesday's tilt against the Lightning...
Steven Stamkos is officially out for the Lightning on Tuesday night with a lower-body injury. It's possible that he also sits for all three remaining regular season games, but Lightning head coach Jon Cooper would only confirm his status for Tuesday.
However, defenseman Victor Hedman will play for Tampa after missing Monday's practice for a maintenance day. Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in goal despite missing the morning skate; this has become something of a standard practice for the netminder.
It may not matter much to you if the Bruins get first or second place in the Atlantic Division. But if it does, then you'll be excited to know that the B's will all-but sew up the top seed in the Eastern Conference if they can beat the Lightning in regulation on Tuesday.
If that happens, Tampa would be down four points to the Bruins with only two games left, and down by one in the Regulation & Overtime Wins (ROW) column. The only way they could regain first place would be to win their final two games in regulation or overtime, while the Bruins lose their final three games, all in regulation. Then they would just barely win the ROW tiebreaker.
But in any event, the Bruins are virtually locked in to the top seed in the East already, as long as they pick up at least four points over their final four games. What's not quite locked in, however, is the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils have 94, 94, and 93 points, respectively. They each have three games left. So if the Bruins do end up in first place, their first-round opponent could be any of those three teams. Now that it's no longer a foregone conclusion that the B's would be finish in second and play the Maple Leafs, it'll be worth watching some scoreboards in this final stretch.
-- By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].