By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s never too early for a playoff preview, and the Bruins and Lightning gave us exactly that on Thursday night at TD Garden, with the early advantage between these Atlantic powerhouses going to the Lightning in a 4-3 shootout final.
The Bruins started the night with a familiar score, as David Pastrnak snuck a shot through Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy at the 9:34 mark of the first period, and just six seconds into the Black and Gold’s power play. The strike, with assists to Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug, was good for Pastrnak’s fifth straight goal dating back to the B’s 4-2 win over the Ducks on Columbus Day, and was enough to give No. 88 seven goals in as many games out of the gate this season.
With a lead to their name, the Bruins had to weather a storm from the Lightning, as they hammered 15 shots on Tuukka Rask, and finally broke through with just 0.8 seconds left in the period behind a Brayden Point breakaway goal.
Finding the seam to cut through Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara with ease, Rask was beaten glove-side by Point, for Point’s third goal of the season, and a 1-1 tie through the first 20 minutes of action.
Back on the power play in the second period, the Bruins regained their lead off a sweet slap-pass from Pastrnak, which found Bergeron between the dots and with the quick release and tuck through Vasilevskiy for Boston’s second goal of the night.
The Bolts would once again counter, however, as a Jake DeBrusk drop-pass to no one gave the Lightning numbers the other way, which allowed Mathieu Joseph to pot a second-chance look through Rask for a 2-2 tie just 3:06 after Bergeron’s goal.
And after Boston nearly gave a goal away on a late-period power-play opportunity — the Lightning played keepaway, toyed with the Bruins, and nearly struck on a two-on-one with a clean zone-entry — the sides started the third deadlocked at 2-2.
Paced for what was surely going to be their worst defensive night of the year (29 shots peppered on Rask through the first two periods), the Bruins noticeably tightened up in the first half of the third period, with just shots allowed in the opening 8:25 of the third period before Matt Grzelcyk was whistled for hooking.
But Tampa made their third shot of the period count, as Kevin Shattenkirk put one through Rask for a 3-2 lead with under five minutes to play.
The Bruins were given one final gasp though, thanks to an Anthony Cirelli tripping penalty against Pastrnak, sending the B’s back to the man advantage with 3:52 left in the game. And it was Pastrnak who made it count, with his second goal of the night, scored 47 seconds into the power play and with just 3:05 remaining in the third period.
Onto overtime for the first time all year, the Bruins controlled possession for a large stretch, culminating with a Grzelcyk breakaway chance, and a ridiculous back-checking effort from DeBrusk to deny a Steven Stamkos chance.
The teams traded a couple more chances before the end of overtime — Sean Kuraly hit the post and Killorn was stoned by Rask — before the sides went to a shootout.
The sides went scoreless through the first three rounds of the shootout before Stamkos struck in the top of the fourth. And with the game on his stick, DeBrusk could not beat No. 88 in the Tampa crease.
Rask made 33 saves for his first loss of the year, while Vasilevskiy countered with 34 stops in a winning effort.
David Krejci, originally considered a game-time decision, sat this game out with an upper-body injury. According to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, the 33-year-old Krejci did not respond well to the off-ice treatment he was given.
With Krejci out, Par Lindholm drew back into the lineup for his first action since the second game of the season, a 1-0 win over the Coyotes on Oct. 5. David Backes and Steven Kampfer, meanwhile, sat as Boston’s healthy scratches.
The Bruins will travel to Toronto for a Saturday night head-to-head with the Maple Leafs. This will be the first 2019-20 meeting between these division rivals, and first since the Bruins ousted them in a seven-game series in round one last spring.