Lightning fall out of first place
Boston, MA- Few matchups in the National Hockey League have as much in-built hype as a date between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. These teams are dueling for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Many believe these to be the east’s best teams and favorites to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. On Thursday night, the teams met at TD Garden for a spot atop the standings. The hockey world was not disappointed.
Boston controlled the opening period, outshooting Tampa Bay 16-7 in the opening frame. For much of it, Andrei Vasilevskiy held firm. The Vezina candidate stopped 14 shots in the frame and held Boston at bay. Alas, he did not stop every shot. With less than a minute left, Tampa failed to clear a puck out of their zone. Tim Schaller picked up the puck, dished to Tommy Wingels, and banged in a loose puck to give the Bruins a lead. The meltdown did not end there. Alex Killorn took a penalty with 31 seconds left and the Bruins made Tampa pay on the ensuing power play. David Pastrnak lasered home his 32nd goal of the season to give Boston a 2-0 lead entering the intermission.
Tampa Bay flipped the tables in the second period. They outshot Boston 11-3 and got on the scoreboard early. Brian Gionta took a boarding penalty and Tampa Bay capitalized on the power play. JT Miller took a pass from Nikita Kucherov for his 21st goal of the season and Tampa looked to deal Boston their first loss of the year when leading by two or more goals. Then Tuuka Rask wrestled the momentum away.
Rask made 10 of his 26 saves in the frame and held his ground against every Lightning player. Just after the midpoint of the game, Cory Conacher took up space in Rask’s crease. The emotional goalie did not take kindly to that and a fight ensued. Boston got a power play out of it when Vasilevskiy skated to join the fray, but failed to score. From there, the game remained physical into the second intermission.
The third period offered a glimpse into a potential playoff series. The first half of the frame saw no scoring, but did offer near goals and a fight between Dan Girardi and David Pastrnak after Girardi decked Patrice Bergeron. The second half saw the scoring open up. Boston went first, with a dazzling display of passing that ended with Patrice Bergeron netting his 28th goal of the season and a 3-1 Bruins lead. Tampa kept it close. Two minutes later, Victor Hedman fired a shot on Rask that squirted through his pads and trickled over the line for his 15th of the season. The Lightning thought that they had tied the game on a wraparound goal by Alex Killorn, but the goal was waved off, citing goalie interference on Anthony Cirelli. Tampa pulled Vasilevskiy for the empty netter, but could not get the equalizer. Instead, Boston demonstrated a strong clear and great passing that ended with Brad Marchand potting his 34th goal of the season and wrapping up the scoring. One last fight ensued between JT Miller, Nikita Kucherov, Noel Acciari, and Tim Schaller before the final buzzer sounded.
Boston leapfrogs Tampa with the win. Their record climbs to 48-17-11, giving them a Conference high 107 points. Tampa’s record is 51-22-4, with 106 points. Boston takes the lead in the conference for the first time this season. They also are 33-0-4 when leading by two this season.
Victor Hedman kept positive after the game. “That was a better effort against this team than the last time we played them. It was a tense playoff atmosphere tonight and a great effort by the guys out there.”
The teams play one last time this season on April 3rd in Tampa. Puck drops at 7:30 at Amalie Arena for the final regular season meeting between these titans. Before then, Boston faces the Panthers and Flyers. Tampa faces the Rangers and Predators.