Bruins beat the Lighting 4-2 and take over the lead in the Atlantic Division
Bruins did not actually win the Cup tonight though.
In a matchup of the two best teams in the Atlantic and maybe the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins beat the Lightning 4-2. After the first period, this game looked like it might get out of hand in favor of the Bruins. Instead, the Lightning closed the gap and showed that a playoff series between these two teams would almost certainly be a close one.
The Lightning started off well. They were step for step with the Bruins through the beginning of the first period. The intensity level reflected the stakes and was a couple levels above a normal regular season game. The Bolts looked engaged defensively in a way they haven’t during much of the second half of the season. They seemed intent on limiting the amount of saves Andrei Vasilevskiy would need to make.
On offense, they played a more counter-attacking style creating chances on the rush. On one in particular, Steven Stamkos started the attack. He passed to Nikita Kucherov who made a one touch tip pass to J.T. Miller. Miller had a good look at Tuuka Rask but couldn’t beat him.
In the second half of the period, the ice started to tilt definitively in Boston’s favor. The team’s traded power plays and Boston looked more dangerous. Neither team scored but the Bruins had more chances. Tampa struggled for the majority of their opportunity but managed to generate a couple of decent chances in the last 30 seconds with some creative movement.
The game came apart completely in the last few minutes. Ryan McDonagh turned the puck over trying to exit the defensive zone under pressure from Tim Schaller and Tommy Wingels. Schaller got the puck and made a pass to Wingels. Wingels too the shot and Schaller followed up on the rebound for the goal.
Less than a minutes later, Alex Killorn took an offensive zone penalty giving the Bruins another power play with about 30 seconds left in the period. The Bruins scored almost immediately. They won the faceoff, made a couple quick passes, and the puck was in the net. David Pastrnak shot the puck toward the net and both Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Donato tipped it on its way past Vasilevskiy.
A period that started well ended in near disaster for the Lightning and it looked as though this game might be headed in the wrong direction quickly.
Instead, the Bolts came out strong in the second period. The game got increasingly physical through the second twenty minutes. Brian Gionta took a bad boarding penalty on Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli seemed to be hurt but was able to stay in the game.
The Lightning took advantage on the power play with the same play they used successfully against the Islanders week ago. Nikita Kucherov set up in his normal spot in the right circle. But instead of shooting, he put a pass back door to J.T. Miller who was standing wide open at the post waiting for a deflection. Kucherov managed to fit the puck through Kevin Miller who was in good position but couldn’t stop the pass.
After the goal, Tampa continued to play well pushing the pace and creating chances off the rush. They had several good shifts with some extended zone time and put pressure on Rask and the Bruins. They drew another penalty near the halfway point of the period but weren’t able to generate much aside from a late chance for Tyler Johnson.
With eight minutes left, the game went a little sideways for everyone. Cory Conacher got tied up in the Boston crease. Rask didn’t like it and got up throwing punches with his blocker at Conacher. Several Boston players went after Conacher as Vasilevskiy skated up the ice looking for Rask. The refs kept them separated and took a couple minutes to sort out the penalties.
Somehow, that scenario ended with the Lightning on the penalty kill and Rask not receiving any penalty despite throwing punches to the head with a blocker being a match penalty. The Lightning responded with their best penalty kill of the game including Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat creating a shorthanded chance.
The Lightning continued to play well through the rest of the second period turning what looked like a possible blowout after the first period into a close game heading into the final 20 minutes.
The Lightning continued to play well in the third and momentarily looked to have tied the game as Alex Killorn scored on a wrap around. The goal was immediately called off for goalie interference on Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli was camped in the crease as Killorn scored the goal and at first, it seemed an obvious call.
What made it unusual was that Rask never really made an attempt to recover and never made contact with Cirelli. Had he tried to recover, he definitely wouldn’t have been able to do so. But he didn’t try. The Lightning challenged the call but the refs stayed with the call on the ice. I guess they decided Rask didn’t try because he knew he couldn’t get to the other side of the crease.
The physicality continued to escalate with a Dan Girardi open ice hit on Bergeron. The hit was clean but Pastrnak didn’t like it and dropped the gloves leading to both players missing the next five minutes.
Boston started to get more pressure after the fight generating their first real chances of the game. They also continued to push the boundaries including starting a scrum at the benches during a routine line change. This time, David Backes and Cedric Paquette both received roughing penalties resulting in 4 on 4 play.
Both teams generated serious chances at 4 on 4. It started with a rush chance for Bergeron and Marchand. Bergeron fed a pass through the slot to Marchand but the shot hit the post keeping the game 2-1. Nikita Kucherov was next to have a chance but couldn’t finish a clean look on a wrap around.
Boston took a two goal lead on a tic tac toe goal from Marchand to Torey Krug to Bergeron. The final pass was particularly slick and Vasilevskiy had no chance to make a save. Despite playing much better defense tonight, the Lightning collapsed on that scenario and chased the puck instead of picking up a body. That allowed the Bruins to undress them with quick passes and put the game out of reach.
Victor Hedman got one goal back for Tampa on a softy that slipped past Rask but it would prove to be false hope. The remaining six minutes of the game featured more scrums than scoring chances and Boston ultimately sealed the game with an empty netter.
Giving up first place in the Atlantic is a tough outcome for the Lightning. But nothing about this game suggests that the Lightning are overmatched against the Bruins. If they see each other in the playoffs, this will be a tough series. The Lightning will have to move on from this one quickly because they play tomorrow in New York against the Rangers and need the two points.