Boston Bruins

Feb 28, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron celebrates with left wing Brad Marchand and center Danton Heinen after scoring a goal during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Feb 28, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron celebrates with left wing Brad Marchand and center Danton Heinen after scoring a goal during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Whether they meant to or not, the Bruins sent a message to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the rest of the NHL in their 4-1 win on Thursday night: you’d better have your best game, or we’re going to maul you.

The B’s took full advantage of a tired Tampa team, which took the ice at TD Garden on the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights, and jackhammered their concrete wall of a goaltender until the dam burst in the third period. Backup goalie Louis Domingue withstood the relentless assault and saved the game from becoming an early laugher, but ultimately couldn’t hold up.

Statement win? Probably too strong. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said even before the game that the circumstances didn’t exactly make for a level playing field. But to take care of business in resounding fashion from wire-to-wire, against a deep, talent-rich team that is running away with the Presidents’ Trophy, still sent enough of a message about how hard these Bruins are going to be to play against in the playoffs.

“I don’t know if I’d put it that way [as sending a message],” Cassidy said after the game. “We’ve been playing good hockey, and we talked about this morning. You know, we were sitting here waiting for them, and they played last night. That definitely factors into it. We’re playing for a little more than they are right now I think as well, in terms of the standings, so some of that factored in to our urgency. But I do believe we wanted to put our best foot forward. It’s the team that knocked us out last year, so I wouldn’t say a message, but we do want to let them know that we’re a good hockey club as well, and we’ve changed a little since the last time we’ve seen them.”

Cassidy can quibble with the semantics. But he admitted that the Bruins wanted to tell the Lightning something. And they have changed from last spring – particularly on the all-important second line. David Krejci (55 points) is playing his best hockey in years and 22-year old Jake DeBrusk (21 goals) has taken another step forward. The marked improvement of that pair could be the reliable secondary scoring the Bruins sorely lacked a year ago.

Feb 28, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Feb 28, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

DeBrusk, who scored on Thursday and has racked up 12 points in his last eight games, likes the statement that his team made on its home ice – but knows that the real big one would come away from the comforts of Boston.

“In a way yes [it’s a statement win], we haven’t played them since December, couple new guys here and there,” DeBrusk said. “They also were playing on a back to back so it will be interesting to see the next time we play them. Obviously I think the real test is in Tampa Bay, it’s a tough building to play in. In saying that it’s always nice to have the effort like we did tonight and have multiple guys do well.”

Call it a statement, a message, nothing, whatever. The reality is the Bruins overwhelmed the Lightning from start to finish.

In the first two periods they out-shot Tampa 32-9. Even though the Lightning battled back in the third (12-9 shots on goal), the Bruins dominated the scoreboard in the final frame with a three-goal explosion in a span of one minute and 28 seconds. Boston finished with an overpowering 16-5 advantage in 5-on-5 “high-danger” scoring chances. Their even-strength domination was especially encouraging.

If you need a visual, the shot attempts as charted on the “Heatmap” from Natural Stat Trick is just preposterous.

The Bruins’ consistent zone entries precipitated their dominance around the net, where they peppered Domingue and forced him to make a number of eye-popping, yell-at-your-TV saves. It also painted a clear picture of a gassed Tampa squad that sputtered early and simply couldn’t survive the bear’s den on this particular night.

“Yeah, we were probably a little overwhelmed from them,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Things started alright, and then, you know, just the second half of the first period, we just weren’t skating, they were a step ahead of us, and you just spend so much time in that D-zone, now you’re just chipping pucks out, they’re coming right back at you. They did a really good job at that.”

As a team, the Bruins faced off in the Lightning zone an outrageous 66.7 percent of the time. Domingue (37 saves) frustrated the Bruins and their fans for about two-and-a-half periods, but the sudden three-goal outburst was the inevitable levee-break.

Thursday night’s win isn’t nearly enough to favor the Bruins over the Lightning in a playoff series. Especially considering that Tampa has a chance to deliver a return message when they clash again at Amalie Arena on March 25.

But this game should at least spell this out: the Bruins are better equipped now than last year to upend Tampa on a Stanley Cup run. They’re in a better spot to avoid getting suffocated offensively when Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, or David Pastrnak aren’t lighting the lamp. And with a much-improved, healthy Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy beginning to emerge as a full-ice force, they’re better prepared to stifle Tampa’s considerable offensive firepower as well.

This win doesn’t guarantee anything. Except, perhaps, that the Bruins won’t just whimper out of the playoffs this time around. For a February regular season game with no consequence in the standings, that kind of message is strong enough for now.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.