If the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to become contenders in the Eastern Conference, they're going to have to find a way to play their game in the toughest eastern cities.
A 9th straight loss to the Boston Bruins -- this time by a score of 4-3 -- is another instance of Tampa Bay not quite being over that hump.
For whatever reason, the Lightning resort to physical, dump-and-chase hockey -- a style the Bruins prefer -- when they play Boston, rather than the speed, skill, finesse game that has earned them a top spot in the league through half the season. Boston capitalized on tired legs in the third period to close things out, but Tampa Bay's inability to play their game doomed them from the start as they lost for the second night in a row.
Both teams weathered early power play opportunities for the opposition before Steven Stamkos opened the scoring on a redirect near the right post set up by Ondrej Palat. That gave the Lightning the 1-0 lead and provided Tampa with a lot of offense compared to how they fared vs. Boston and Tuukka Rask a season ago:
Lightning have already matched their goal scoring output from their last three games in Boston.— Kramerica Industries (@KramerIndustry) January 14, 2015
The Bruins tied that game on a delayed penalty call against Jonathan Drouin after a botched clear and tumble to the ice by Mark Barberio put the Lightning in scramble mode while facing a 5v6 situation. Marchand one-timed a nice pass from Carl Soderberg to tie the game 1-1 heading into the first intermission.
The Bolts played decent in the early part of the 2nd and even drew a power play on a nice rush by Anton Stralman, but ceded more offense to the Boston penalty kill than they generated with new power play units missing Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson. But the Lightning's 5v5 offense surprised after struggling vs. Boston all of last season. Nikita Nesterov started the play that ended with a Steven Stamkos laser from the slot for a 2-1 lead and Nesterov's first NHL point.
The Bruins pushback came fast and relentless after that; David Pastrnak embarrassed Matt Carle on his off side with a wide rush down the left wing and nice move to the net to tie the game at 2-2, and Ben Bishop had to make a tough save on Carl Soderberg on a Boston 2-on-1 to keep the score tied with the Bruins gaining momentum. Milan Lucic converted with a wide open rush to the net off a 3-on-2, with Anton Stralman actually kicking the puck in behind Bishop for a 3-2 Bruins lead heading into the final frame.
That put the Lightning behind the 8-ball, after two separate one-goal leads were squandered and the Lightning instead would face a one-goal hole on the road on night two of a back-to-back against a typically tough defensive team.
The Pastrnak show would continue, however. The 18-year old rookie tucked in a wraparound after an offensive-zone faceoff win by David Krejci to extend the Bruins lead just two minutes into the third. The Lightning really started scrambling after that, getting hemmed in by the Bruins and leading to a delay of game penalty on Steven Stamkos with a chance for the Bruins to extend their lead even further.
Cedric Paquette took exception to a board by Zdeno Chara and ended up with a glove and a stick in his mouth for his trouble:
There was some concern about embellishment by Paquette on the play, but none was called and Tampa Bay ended up with a power play out of the scrum that they failed to convert on, leaving them with just over a half-period to try and claw back from two goals down. Things get heated again a bit later when J.T. Brown got an instigator call going after David Krejci; that put Boston on the power play and basically eliminated another two minutes of potential comeback time for Tampa.
Tampa Bay came within one off an apparent double deflection in front by Alex Killorn and then Ryan Callahan, scoring on just their second shot on goal in the third period to give themselves a chance to steal an unearned point. Boston continued to limit Tampa Bay offensively, however, until 1:31 remaining when Jon Cooper opted to pull Ben Bishop for the extra attacker. The Bolts didn't manage anything in the way of a dangerous scoring chance and the game would end 4-3 with more penalty minutes handed out after another scrap between Cedric Paquette and Zdeno Chara.
- Brett Connolly was healthy scratched, with J.T. Brown and Nikita Nesterov as well as recall Vlad Namestnikov drawing in to replace the injured Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman.
- I understand what Cedric Paquette was trying to accomplish -- grit and team toughness and sticking up for his teammates and himself and all that -- but it's tough to see the end result and not wonder if a more disciplined approach would have yielded a better end for the Bolts. Tampa Bay doesn't match up physically to Boston, just like Paquette himself doesn't match up with Chara. The Bolts win with speed and skill, not muscle around the net. A shoving match is exactly what Boston wants, it's what they got, and they won it.
- While concern over Steven Stamkos' production has, oddly enough, continued to float around, he put some of it to rest tonight with two of Tampa Bay's goals off nice feeds from Ondrej Palat. It's just one game, but the theory of magic chemistry between Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov seems flawed for now. Good players playing with other good players will yield good results. It's really that simple.
- The injuries on defense are hard to deal with but don't cry for Eric Brewer back. He wouldn't be faring much better in a role bigger than his abilities right now. But Jon Cooper needs to find a way to maximize the healthy bodies he does have available. Getting Matt Carle off the right side is a start. He was victimized more than once on wide rushes.
- Ben Bishop stopped just 30 of 34 shots (.882). All four goals allowed came at even strength. The team was manhandled from the second period on but there is a little bit of cause for concern seeping in now as the scoring and possession start to falter game-to-game for Tampa Bay. Even good teams need a game stolen now and then, and the Bolts simply aren't getting that from Bishop.