Boston- Sixty-Two wins. Until Saturday afternoon, only the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings hit that mark. Steve Yzerman captained that record-setting unit. Twenty-three years later, Yzerman constructed a new team built to match that level. In the regular season finale against Atlantic Division Rival Boston, the Tampa Bay Lightning set a few records to complete one of the National Hockey League’s best seasons.
It didn’t appear to be as such early. Boston jumped on the Lightning with two quick goals in the first. First, Charlie McAvoy and David Krejci executed a rather disjointed looking 2-on-1 goal, largely due to Brayden Coburn’s sliding block on McAvoy’s pass. The puck still beat backup goalie Edward Pasquale 14:38 into the game. In the dying seconds for the frame, Stephen Kampfer forced a turnover to keep the pressure in the Tampa end. Danton Heinen then cut through the defense and beat Pasquale high left for a 2-0 lead at intermission.
Tampa reversed course in the second. First, Erik Cernak capped a power play when he took a perfect J.T. Miler pass and rifled a shot inside the right post for his fifth tally of the season. Later in the frame, the opposite end of Tampa’s special teams tied the game. Captain Stephen Stamkos got a breakaway and backhanded a shot through Tuukka Rask to set a career high in points (45G, 53A, 97P). Four minutes and change later, Anthony Cirelli tracked a loose puck and launched Tampa into the lead. Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy challenged the call for goaltender interference, but the officials called it a good goal. Tampa led 3-2 at the break.
The pace continued in the third. Nikita Kucherov took a pass from Ryan McDonough amidst several Bruin defenders. The Maykop, Russia, native sliced through the defense and backhanded the puck behind Rask for his 41st goal of the season 53 seconds into the frame.
Boston offered a push back, converting on a power play chance with 5:57 left. Local favorite Matt Grzelcyk wired his third goal of the season. While TD Garden rocked, Tampa immediately responded. Thirteen seconds after the Grzelyck goal, Brayden Coburn ballooned the lead back to two with a wicked wrister. Boston pulled Rask for the extra attacker but to no avail. Tyler Johnson scored the empty-netter to conclude the scoring at 6-3.
Edward Pasquale stopped 30 of 33 shots faced.
The win gets Tampa to a final record of 62-16-4. The 62 wins tie Detroit’s 1996 season for the most all time. The final point total for the Lightning is 128, fourth in the history of the NHL. Only the 1977-1978 Montreal Canadiens, 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings, and 1976-1977 Canadiens posted more team points.
Tampa also netted an important individual record. Nikita Kucherov’s two-point day, with a goal and an assist on Johnson’s empty-netter, gives him a season total of 128. He surpasses should-be Hall of Famer Alexander Mogilny’s 1992-1993 season for the most points in a season by a Russian born player.
“That’s what we expect from Kuch” said Stamkos. “There was some meaning to this game for him. We knew it was gonna happen. Really happy for him, he’s had an unbelievable season. We talk a lot about the team in this room. But to achieve something as an individual, that’s special. We’re all happy to be a small part in an amazing individual achievement.”
Boston concludes their season with a 49-23-9 record and 107 points, second most in the Eastern Conference. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Torey Krug did not play. All should be ready for the postseason.
Tuukka Rask recorded 16 saves on 21 shots faced.
The Bruins, for the second consecutive year and third time in seven seasons, play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs to start the playoffs.
Tampa’s attention now shifts to the “second season” as Head Coach Jon Cooper referred to it.
“The step from game 82 and game 83 is not a step. It’s a leap. We’ve been through this before so we’re a little bit schooled in it. But your intensity level, everything that’s involved is amped up so much. These last couple games here, they kinda tune-up in the third period when it’s close. But nothing like what we’ll see around the League on Wednesday.”
The Lightning’s postseason begins against the Columbus Blue Jackets. This will be the first playoff series between the teams.