The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Boston Bruins 3-1 and closed out their second round series in five games. The Bruins took the lead early but the Bolts came back for the second game in a row to send the Bruins home. It wasn’t the most dominant game of the series for the Lightning, but it was good enough to win.
The Lightning started strong. They took control of the game on the opening shift, creating a flurry around the Boston net that resulted in a couple of good rebound chances for Tyler Johnson. He wasn’t able to shove the puck past Tuukka Rask, but that shift put the Bruins on the defensive from the start.
The Lightning continued to create chances, particularly on the rush. Nikita Kucherov nearly put a backhand shot past Rask and the Bolts followed up with a good look for Braydon Coburn in the slot. J.T. Miller had a great shift early where he nearly slid a cross ice pass to Stamkos for an open shot and then did hit Kucherov with a pass on a pretty tip play but Rask was again able to make the save.
The Lightning got the first power play of the game after Charlie McAvoy cross checked Brayden Point in the back of the head after previously landing a clean open ice hit. The Bolts weren’t able to generate much aside from one chance for Stamkos. The Bruins were active in passing lanes and deflected nearly every pass the Lightning tried to get through the slot.
After the penalty ended, the Bruins generated their first real pressure of the game. They were able to keep the puck in the offensive zone and got an open look for Ryan Donato directly in front of the net off of a deflected pass in the slot. Andrei Vasilevskiy did his part though and made the save.
The rest of the period was a parade to penalty box. First, David Backes went for riding Anthony Cirelli into the goalpost from behind. Cirelli stayed down on the ice for a bit but skated off on his own and remained in the game.
Early in the power play, Victor Hedman committed a borderline hold on Brad Marchand while retrieving the puck, and Marchand did a flying 180, earning himself a matching two-minute penalty for embellishment. Again, the Lightning weren’t able to generate a meaningful chance on the power play.
Boston took over the game with about five minues to go in the period. They had a huge shift in the Tampa zone that eventually led to Dan Girardi taking an interference penalty in front of the net just as the Bolts were finally executing a clean breakout.
The Girardi penalty was bad but Cedric Paquette took an even worse one a minute later for tripping a Bruins player at the blue line. Paquette has a bad habit of standing still in the neutral zone and reaching with his stick. That bad habit caught up with him again as he gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 for a full minute.
The Bruins didn’t score on the 5 on 3 but they did score on the ensuing 5 on 4. David Krejci fired a shot high short side from the left circle off a pass from McAvoy. Vasilevskiy seemed unsure of exactly where he wanted to be at his near post and wasn’t able to make the save.
Despite playing well for the first ten minutes, the Lightning entered the intermission down 1-0 and with the Bruins firmly in control of a choppy, sloppy, penalty-ridden game.
Numbers after 1. Boston got the better of the 5v5 action in that period. Shots were close but the Bruins with a lead in xG. pic.twitter.com/fpEHEZw0iy— Grant McCagg's Colleague (@loserpoints) May 6, 2018
The second period started the way the first finished. The Lightning had some decent possession in the Boston zone but couldn’t do anything with it. Boston looked to be the more dangerous team, generating chances on the rush and getting better shots during their offensive zone time. Aside from a decent opportunity for Johnson from the high slot, Boston controlled the game.
The Lightning finally generated some offense on a shift by the Cirelli line. Yanni Gourde got two separate chances but Rask saved both. The Lightning weren’t able to sustain the pressure and Boston pushed back the other direction, including a dangerous shot from McAvoy through a screen.
The middle of the period was a slog with both teams seemingly focused on playing a safe, structured game more than trying to create offense. That changed when Brayden Point recovered a blocked shot and put a beautiful backhand-forehand move on Rask to tie the game. The goal came with little build up as neither team had been generating much offense prior to Point’s singular play.
The next few minutes featured players from both teams suffering varying degrees of injuries. First, Rick Nash took a shot from his teammate Ryan Donato off the inside of his knee and went down the tunnel for further treatment before returning minutes later. On the following shift, both Victor Hedman and Dan Girardi were hurt in the Lightning defensive zone and weren’t able to get off the ice until a stoppage in play. Hedman collided with Krejci. The broadcast didn’t show what happened to Girardi. Both stayed in the game.
The most dangerous injury occurred shortly after when J.T. Miller hit David Backes head to head. Miller appeared to be trying to put his shoulder in Backes’ chest but unfortunately delivered what amounted to a headbutt to Backes’ chin. The officials did not call a penalty on the play. In a world where all hits to the head are illegal, that’s obviously a penalty. But this isn’t that world and I’m not sure what the call should have been if any under the current rules.
The physicality increased after that hit but both teams managed to settle down and get back into the flow of the game. With six and a half minutes left, Patrice Bergeron took a tripping penalty.
The Lightning took advantage of the opportunity, scoring a pretty power-play goal on a two-person play between J.T. Miller and Nikita Kucherov. The two cycled the puck in the right circle and Miller put the puck past Rask to give the Bolts the lead. The approach represented a change for the Lightning who had been trying to force cross-ice passes on earlier power plays. This time, they took the available ice on the right side and worked the puck until they got a clean look.
Neither team was able to generate much for the remainder of the period and entered the second intermission with the Lightning leading 2-1.
Numbers after 2. Second period was better for TB. They now lead in shots but Boston still leads in xG. pic.twitter.com/nqIWOkQ2wQ— Grant McCagg's Colleague (@loserpoints) May 6, 2018
With the Bruins trailing in an elimination game, one would expect them to come out and put pressure on the Lightning early in the third. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, the game moved at a relatively slow pace to open the period.
The Lightning got the first good chances of the period when the Point line pinned Boston in the zone. Ondrej Palat had a couple of looks at Rask but wasn’t able to extend the lead. The Bruins responded immediately with a good shift by the Bergeron line leading to a shot by Zdeno Chara that Vasilevskiy saved.
The game started to open up about halfway through the period starting with a 2 on 1 for Bergeron and Marchand. Ryan McDonagh was the only Bolt back but he was able to deflect Bergeron’s pass to Marchand and prevent the Bruins from getting a shot on what looked like a dangerous rush.
Shortly thereafter, the Bolts responded with a chance of their own. Kucherov got behind the Bruins defense but wasn’t able to handle a stretch pass from Miller. Kucherov recovered the puck and dropped it back to Stamkos who was trailing on the play but Rask again made the save.
Boston followed that sequence more good chances in succession. The first was a Riley Nash shot on the rush after an offensive zone turnover by Yanni Gourde. The second was on a great individual play by McAvoy weaving through the Tampa defense and firing a shot from the slot on Vasilevskiy but the young goaltender made the save again.
The Lightning broke the pressure briefly when J.T. Miller recovered a loose puck and nearly put the Lightning ahead by two. But that didn’t last long.
The Bruins picked up the attack again immediately after with the top line creating another chance for David Pastrnak. The peak of danger came when Ryan McDonagh took a penalty after he fell down defending a Pastrnak attack and tripped him to prevent him from getting a shot. While McDonagh’s decision is understandable, it seemed unnecessary as Pastrnak looked to be at too tight of an angle to do much damage.
The first half of the penalty kill was all about Ryan Callahan. He pushed the puck in the offensive zone and held it there against the Bruins forwards. In that sequence, he killed about 30 seconds of the power play on his own. He got some support in the second half of the kill as his teammates came up with a couple of big blocked shots and clears to keep Boston from getting any good looks at Vasilevskiy.
The most dangerous chance of the third period for Boston came immediately after the penalty. During a line change, Bergeron got free for a near one on one with the Lightning goalie. Palat made a huge play to stick check Bergeron from behind without taking a penalty and neutralize the shot.
With 1:45 left in the game, Boston pulled their goaltender and quickly generated another good shot for David Pastrnak but Vasilevskiy made the save. The Bolts won the ensuing faceoff and pushed the puck back to Anton Stralman who scored an empty netter that went nearly the full length of the ice.
From there, the Lightning closed the game confidently and I took a full breath for the first time in nearly three hours.
Final numbers. Impressive third for TB. Kept the lead in shots and took over the lead in xG. Really played well when it mattered most. pic.twitter.com/vPIGlaLHxw— Grant McCagg's Colleague (@loserpoints) May 6, 2018
Beating Boston in five games is impressive. And these weren’t fluke wins. The Lightning outshot Boston comfortably at 5v5. They got better shots. They deserved to win. Despite being the last team to start their second round series, the Bolts are the first to finish it. And now they’ll wait for the winner of the Penguins and Capitals series where the Caps currently lead three games to two.