(SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Bruins hope to maintain their lead for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when they visit the struggling Detroit Red Wings for Thursday's clash at Joe Louis Arena.
Boston has won its last three games to take a three-point lead over Ottawa for the second of the East's two wild card spots. The Senators, however, own a game in hand over the Bruins, who have five tests remaining in the regular season.
Ottawa is playing on Thursday when it hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins and Sens will not face each other again in the regular season.
The Bruins briefly lost their hold on the final wild card spot last week, but three consecutive wins have the club back in front. The latest victory came Tuesday night against visiting Florida. The 3-2 regulation loss dropped the Panthers six points behind the Bruins in the conference standings.
Boston also has a chance to forgo the wild card if it can pass Detroit in the Atlantic Division standings before the season ends. The Red Wings, who only have won four times over their last 14 games, are at 93 points and two ahead of the B's for third and final automatic berth in the division.
Tonight marks the regular-season finale between the Bruins and Wings. Boston has claimed three in a row against Detroit since losing on Oct. 9 in the Motor City. The Bruins halted a five-game skid at Joe Louis Arena with a shootout win on Oct. 15.
Boston was down 2-1 to the Panthers after 40 minutes but used a two-goal third period to take the important battle. Ryan Spooner tied the game at 9:47 of the third and Milan Lucic delivered the game-winner with just 69 seconds remaining in regulation.
Lucic grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated up the middle of the ice and beat Roberto Luongo with a wrister to give Boston the 3-2 edge.
"It's that time of the year that you really have to step up in every aspect of your game," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
Loui Eriksson scored in the first period for Boston, while Lucic and Spooner each added an assist. David Pastrnak chipped in two helpers and Tuukka Rask made 22 saves for the win.
Rask is expected to start tonight and is 3-5-1 with a 2.97 goals against average in nine career games versus the Red Wings.
Boston also could have forward Brett Connolly in the lineup tonight for the first time since he was acquired in a trade with Tampa on March 2. Connolly, who was acquired for a pair of second-round draft picks, broke his right index finger in practice on March 4 before he made his Bruins debut.
After Connolly practiced with Boston on Wednesday, head coach Claude Julien said he could play in this evening's contest. The 22-year-old has 12 goals and three assists in 50 games this season.
The Red Wings have lost two straight and Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss against Ottawa dropped Detroit to 4-8-2 over its last 14 trips to the ice.
Gustav Nyquist's 25th goal of the season put the Red Wings ahead 1-0 at 5:43 of the second period and the score stayed that way until Clarke MacArthur tallied for Ottawa with 4:02 remaining in regulation.
The Senators won it in the shootout when Mark Stone beat Petr Mrazek in the fourth round.
Mrazek stopped 33-of-34 shots in the loss and will get a fourth straight start over Jimmy Howard tonight.
"We turned the puck over too much," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. "I didn't think it was smooth or pretty to watch."
Red Wings forwards Pavel Datsyuk sat out Tuesday with a lower-body injury, marking the seventh time in eight games the Russian star missed a contest. Datsyuk could sit out again tonight, while fellow forwards Riley Sheahan and Erik Cole are questionable with upper-body issues.
However, Drew Miller could play tonight despite leaving Tuesday's game with a facial laceration after taking Stone's skate to his face. He suffered two cuts -- one on his cheek and another above his right eye -- but practice on Wednesday and has not been ruled out for tonight. The 31-year-old winger holds the Wings��� longest current streak for consecutive games played at 158 games.
Detroit is completing a two-game homestand tonight before visiting Minnesota on Saturday. The Red Wings are 21-8-9 as the host this season.
Boston is 16-15-6 as the visiting team and will play four of its last five games on the road. The B's will play their regular-season finale at TD Garden in Saturday's clash with Toronto.