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The Lightning lose 4-3 to the Boston Bruins

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In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Lightning lose at home to the Bruins, 4-3.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In their first game after the All-Star break, the Lightning faced the Boston Bruins. For the Lightning, the game was the first of a four-game home stand. With the playoffs already an unlikely achievement for this team, another stretch of losses could finish off their season and force them to start thinking about how to best position themselves for the offseason.

Boston entered the game in a different position. With excellent shot and expected goal rates that suggest they should have more than 56 points, they are looking to build on a positive first half of the season and make a strong push into a better playoff position.

The first period was strong for the Lightning. They outshot Boston 13-12 at 5v5 and generated more dangerous chances. The team once again paired rookie defender Jake Dotchin with Victor Hedman, and Braydon Coburn with Anton Stralman. That strategy seemed to work fairly well through the first twenty minutes as the Lightning controlled play and were solid defensively.

The Bolts were strong in the neutral zone, making it difficult for Boston to get through with and speed of control of the puck. Boston has outshot their opposition by a wide margin all season, but Tampa held their own, limiting Boston’s ability to generate meaningful attacks.

Brayden Point returned to the lineup for Tampa, and his impact was immediately obvious. He consistently drives play forward with his ability to gain the zone with possession as well as his skill on the forecheck. Despite his relatively small size, he’s good along the boards and frequently comes away with the puck.

The closest the Lightning came to a goal was on a Jason Garrison shot from the point. The puck got through Tuuka Rask but Collin Miller managed to get the puck off the line just in time.

The Lightning’s solid play in the first did not lead to any goals, and they entered the second period still in a scoreless tie. The pattern of play shifted early in the second. Boston began to take control of the game and push the Lightning back into their own zone. Tampa was no longer able to control the neutral zone, and the advantage they established in the first period eroded.

With just over eleven minutes to go in the second period, Tampa scored the first goal. Brayden Point pressured Torey Krug into a turnover in the Boston zone. Point then recovered the puck and started the sequence that eventually lead to the goal. Alex Killorn scored the goal, assisted by Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson.

After the goal, Boston continued to control the flow of the game just as they had for most of the period. With two minutes left, Anton Stralman was called for a penalty for retaliating against Brad Marchand, who Stralman felt had tripped him. Shortly after that penalty, Matt Beleskey took a penalty for a hit on Cedric Paquette along the boards. On the following 4v4, Boston scored their first goal on a deflection by Patrice Bergeron with less than a minute to go in the period.

About thirty seconds after the goal, the penalty to Stralman expired. When Stralman exited the box, he joined Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula, Andrej Sustr and Jason Garrison on the ice. The unusual group of skaters seemed unsure of how to handle a Boston attack and the Bruins scored again to take the lead on a shot by David Krejci with less than a second to go in the period.

The third period was much like the second. The Bruins controlled play for the majority of the twenty minutes. The Bolts were a bit better at generating dangerous chances but were unable to close the gap in shots. Just like the second, the Lightning again scored the first goal of the period on a shot by Alex Killorn assisted by Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson. Hedman’s pass deflected off of the Bruins defense in the slot and Killorn took advantage of the open look.

Barely over three minutes after tying the game, the Lightning again gave up the lead. Zdeno Chara scored on a slap shot from the top of the circle after a pass from Collin Miller. The Lightning had completely collapsed to the near side the play and Chara was uncovered and used his patented shot to beat Bishop.

After taking the lead, Boston continue to apply pressure. The Lightning weren’t able to mount a counterattack in response to the goal and instead continued to struggle to fend off Boston’s attacks. With a little over seven minutes to go, Boston increased the lead to 4-2 on a power play goal by Frank Vatrano. David Krejci fed him a perfect cross ice assist and Vatrano beat Bishop cleanly on the short side.

After giving up the two goal lead, the Lightning did finally start to reverse the flow of play and put some pressure on the Bruins. They created a couple of opportunities including good chances for both Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. Kucherov missed the net depite having lots of net to hit. Johnson passed up a breakaway opportunity to try to find Victor Hedman. but the pass was deflected.

Tampa did eventually score late in the game after pulling Ben Bishop for the extra skater. Brayden Point deflected a Victor Hedman shot past Tuuka Rask. The secondary assist went to rookie Jake Dotchin for his first career point. The Bolts kept up the pressure but were unable to find a tying goal.

Boston showed in the second and third period tonight why their numbers suggest they are one of the better teams in the east, and unlike much of the season, they got the results they deserved. The Lightning continued to struggle and will enter February well out of the playoff race.

With the trade deadline four weeks away, the Lightning will have lots of decisions to make. And unless something significant changes in the next week to ten days, expect the team to start positioning themselves to be in the best shape for the summer.