By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins punched the Tampa Bay Lightning in the mouth by way of a 4-1 final on Thursday night.
Now, it wasn't enough to erase the sting of last year's second-round exit, or bump the Lightning from their king-sized bed atop the NHL (even with the loss, Tampa still holds a 17-point edge over the Bruins). But it was enough to remind the Lightning that they are not alone in their quest to represent the Eastern Conference in the fourth round this June.
"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," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.
"It feels good to win," B's captain Zdeno Chara offered after the victory, which extended the club's point streak to 15 games (11-0-4). "It’s a big game and obviously a really good team we played tonight. It was a closer game, I would say, than maybe what the score showed. But of course we’re going to enjoy this one and get ready for the next one."
But before we declare this a statement and pencil the Bruins in for a six-game, round-two victory over the Lightning, perhaps it's best we take a look at the significance (or insignificance) of this victory in the grand scheme of things.
The Bruins were absolutely playing a gassed team tonight.
In Boston for their third game in four nights, the Lightning had four shots after 20 minutes, and just nine after 40. The Bolts put absolutely zero offensive pressure on Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, and while some of that undoubtedly comes back to a superb gameplan from the B's, expecting the Bolts to play with this little energy/effort when they're actually playing with some rest to their name seems like wishful thinking. In fact, this kind of listless offensive game is borderline unheard of with this Tampa Bay juggernaut, as Thursday's 21-shot effort was tied for their third-lowest total of the season.
Boston is also playing for seeding within the Atlantic Division playoff bracket right now, whereas the Bolts are pretty much locked into having home-ice throughout the entire postseason, barring some sort of absolutely disastrous finish to their season (and the Black and Gold extending their point streak to 33 games over that same stretch).
This isn't to diminish what the Bruins did -- you have to play the schedule in front of you, every team will have to play their way through some fatigue and travel issues, and the Bolts are still an elite team capable of hanging a crooked number on you in a hurry -- but perhaps some context is key when it comes to planning the parade.
And it also seems to be the approach that the Boston locker room is taking with their latest triumph.
"It’s a good team that we beat, but they’re on a back-to-back and three-in-four, so I think there might have been some tired legs and that’s alright," Brad Marchand acknowledged. "But it was a good game, we just happened to get a couple late in the game. You know, one goal game up there until about the six-minute mark, so yeah it was a good effort tonight."
"Obviously I think the real test is in Tampa Bay, it’s a tough building to play in," said Jake DeBrusk. "In saying that it’s always nice to have the effort like we did tonight and have multiple guys do well."
Here are some other thoughts and musings from a 4-1 win at TD Garden...
Jake DeBrusk gets it going for Bruins yet again
Make no mistake about it: Jake DeBrusk made everything about Boston's first goal happen.
DeBrusk first carried the puck into the Tampa Bay zone with speed and put a legitimate chance on Louis Domingue. The Bruins then regained possession of the puck, and it was DeBrusk that drew a penalty on a tired Tampa Bay squad. Then on that power play, it was DeBrusk that found a perfect bounce off Anton Stralman's stick and through Domingue for a 1-0 edge.
Just another day in a run that's seen everything (and I mean everything) finally go right for a B's winger that's now scored goals in seven of his last eight games overall (with the Bruins having won all seven of those games in which No. 74 scored).
"Energetic, his legs are there," Cassidy began when asked what's working for DeBrusk right now. "You can see it. He’s winning foot races on a regular basis, and right now there’s not many guys that can catch once that puck goes one way if they haven’t already started. He’s getting by them. His breakaway was a good example of that. He gets a little bit of a step and guy has to pivot. He’s gone. He’s going to the dirty areas, and his overall game is better."
A bonus for DeBrusk and the Bruins: The newest member of his line with David Krejci, trade deadline pickup Marcus Johansson, is already looking like a potentially solid fit with the duo. In two games together, the DeBrusk-Krejci-Johanssson trio has outshot the opposition 17-6. generated 14 scoring chances while surrendering just five, and doubled-up the opposition in shot attempts (28-14) in just 23 minutes and change.
"[Johansson]'s a smart player, lots of fun to play with," DeBrusk said. "He makes plays, he finds guys, and he could’ve had a couple again tonight. There’s a lot of chances around the net where he’s going to get them. I think we mesh well as a line."
This team rides the momentum like no other
I've said this before and I swear it inches closer towards factual with every passing game: Nobody rides the wave of a game quite like the 2018-19 Boston Bruins. The most recent example of this opinion-turned-fact came in Thursday's victory, as the Bruins busted this game open with three goals on four shots in a 1:28 stretch in the third period.
This was not the first time they have gone on an in-game fastbreak scoring spree in recent weeks.
In fact, the Bruins did this in Tuesday's victory over the Sharks, with three goals in a 3:19 span, including two within 37 seconds. They also did it in San Jose two weeks ago, with three goals in a 4:35 stretch in the opening period. And before that, the Bruins won a game against the Kings with two goals in a 36-second span late in the third period.
You get it. The list goes on and on and on, but it certainly seems to be a real thing for this team.
"Well, you want to obviously feed off the momentum, the energy," said Chara. "At the same time the other team’s going to push. Right after you score they’re going to be aggressive as well – they’re going to you know, try to obviously come back. So you just have to be aware of that and find the right balance to play the right way if you’re trying to go for another one.
"But I think that we try to obviously be smart and play the right way."
Noel Acciari never considered sitting this one out
Bruins winger Noel Acciari had a nightmare of a week. The victim of an errant puck to the face in Tuesday's win over the Sharks, Acciari lost two teeth (and had some other 'loose' teeth), required some stitches, and is likely going to need some root canals down the road. But that was not going to stop the bruising forward from suiting up in Thursday's game.
"No, I always anticipated on playing," Acciari said after the win. "I mean, I’m okay with pain."
Acciari, of course, would end up scoring the game-winning goal in the third period, and did so donning what's become an apparently lucky fishbowl on his helmet, following in the footsteps of linemate Sean Kuraly, who experienced a massive hot streak while wearing it earlier this season.
"He’s got the magic bubble on that seems to work for our players," Cassidy joked. "All of a sudden instant offense, so we’ll see if we can find a few more of those."
Follow me here: An entire roster of fishbowls for the B's playoff date with the Lightning. It just might work.