In a game that had massive implications for playoff seeding, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime on Friday night. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 of 37 shots, while Linus Ullmark stopped 28 of 29. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored for the Lightning. Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle scored for the Bruins. This was a game where Tampa Bay struggled to wring control from Boston's hands for much of the night but managed some extended stretches of consistent and dangerous pressure that they ultimately couldn't cash in on.
Plainly put, Tampa Bay was not good enough this evening. Some will call tonight's game a "playoff atmosphere," and while the physicality was undoubtedly at that level, the on-ice product was half-baked. The first and second periods were marred by poor puck management and decision making, the power-play fizzled by going 0-for-5 on the night, and the same issues that have plagued the Lightning all season were prevalent once again. There were stretches where the Lightning managed to pin the Bruins in the offensive zone, but they were few and far between compared to the pressure Boston was putting on Vasilevskiy throughout the night.
The opening period saw Boston dictate the pace for nearly the entire 20 minutes, with Tampa Bay only providing real consistent pressure on a scant amount of shifts—mostly at the end of the period. Their first power-play, which came within the first 3 minutes of the game, saw Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos get two great chances, a piece, on Ullmark, but they failed to score. The next time the Lightning had a dominant offensive shift came from the Anthony Cirelli - Brandon Hagel - Alex Killorn trio, where Hagel set up Cirelli for a great chance near the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Unfortunately, that also didn't result in a goal; however, it did appear to spark the team for the remainder of the period (3ish minutes left) as Tampa Bay unrelentingly pressured Boston and generated an excellent chance for Bellemare that just missed the net.
The second period saw the inconsistency that has plagued the Lightning all season rear its ugly head. Poor puck management dictated the period as Boston smothered Tampa Bay to a tune of 13-4 in shots, 2-0 in high danger chances, 8-2 in scoring chances, and generating an expected goals percentage of 78%.
That inconsistency led to Boston taking the lead just 47 seconds into the period.
The most infuriating thing about this sequence was how avoidable it was (sounds familiar, doesn't it?); all Erik Cernak has to do is pick his head up for half a second to gauge the situation. Instead, he blindly tries to throw it out; Patrice Bergeron reads the play before Cernak even turns his body and has it deflect off his skate right onto the stick of Brad Marchand, who tap passes it to a wide-open DeBrusk for the go-ahead goal. DeBrusk being open isn't really the issue here; it's more so the thought process behind the board play by Cernak. Mikhail Sergachev is stuck in a no-win situation—he either commits to Marchand and leaves DeBrusk open, or he commits to cutting off the pass to DeBrusk and allows the more dangerous shooter an open look in the slot.
This goal appeared to wake Tampa Bay up as the next few shifts saw the Lightning relentlessly hound Boston all over the ice and eventually tie the game a few minutes later.
This line has been left alone through all of the team's inconsistencies throughout the season, and this goal shows why. They don't score as often as they should, but they generate plenty of pressure in every game. Here they get rewarded for a strong forecheck and good positioning. Unfortunately, the remainder of the period saw Boston reassert themselves as the dominant team as the Lightning relied on Vasilevskiy to keep the score tied, entering the third—then the script flipped.
The Lightning looked like the Lightning in the final frame of regulation. Their puck management was strong, their passing cleaned up, and they chained together multiple strings of dangerous shifts that saw Ullmark make a slew of impressive saves. Tampa Bay's best opportunities came from two Steven Stamkos one-timers on an early power-play, a partial breakaway from Brayden Point, and the Hagel-Cirelli-Killorn trio creating a string of chances that either went wide of Ullmark thwarted.
However, it wasn't enough as the game shifted to overtime, where Boston would secure the game-winning goal after failing to control the puck for most of the extended frame.
What makes this goal sting is how close Tampa Bay was to ending it on several shifts before this sequence. Point, Kucherov, and Palat all had chances that didn't go in, and Boston scores on their first real chance of overtime on a shift that saw some of Tampa Bay's best players be out of gas at the wrong time.
Tampa Bay's strong third period and overtime might alleviate some of the sour taste of the first two periods, but the Lightning didn't deserve to win this game. They struggled mightily for the first 40 minutes and tried to steal a win with a strong third period. That might work against inferior opponents, but not against the division's upper echelon. They've now gone 0-2-2 over their last four games and sit one point behind Boston for third place in the Atlantic.
This team is making the playoffs, that's without a doubt, but these final 11 games need to see more progress on the little things. Getting hot going into the postseason means nothing, but ironing out the deficiencies that keep creeping into every game is something the Lightning need to rectify if they want to have a shot at a three-peat.