By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In case you didn’t know: The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning really, really don’t like each other.
The top two teams in the Atlantic over the last three years, and once again jostling for Atlantic supremacy, the sides decided to skate in their most spirited bout to date on Saturday night, combining for eight goals and nearly 100 minutes in penalties by the final horn. But it was a number-heavy contest that ultimately favored the Lightning by a 5-3 final at TD Garden.
“I think both of us feel we’re the best team in the Atlantic,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy offered after the defeat. “We went [to Tampa], got the two points in their building, they wanted to respond. And for the simple reason as that, that the rivalry has developed now between the two of us and you’re going to get some intense matchups. And that’s what you got tonight. And they were more ready to go off the puck drop than we were, and it ended up being the difference in the game.”
Boston began their evening in the worst possible way, as they surrendered two shorthanded goals (and on the first two shots Tuukka Rask faced) on their first power-play of the evening, with Anthony Cirelli scoring the first and Mikhail Sergachev beating Rask for the second. The Cirelli goal, scored just six seconds into Boston’s power-play chance, was an incredibly soft goal on the part of Rask. And while the second wasn’t much better, it also came with Yanni Gourde feeding Sergachev between the circles without so much as a real challenge from the five (ridiculously disorganized) Boston skaters in front of Rask.
“I’m not going to absolve [Rask], but I’m just looking at how the chances were manufactured, and that was the five guys on the ice outworked by four,” Cassidy said when asked about the goals. “That’s where it starts. Of course, we could have used a save and maybe two, and all of a sudden, they probably just forget about it and keep playing, but that doesn’t happen every night. He’s been rock solid for us, Tuukka, so it’s a bit of the guys like, ‘Hey you just can’t give up these chances.'”
The goals were pretty much the only minus of the period for the Bruins, too, as they skated an efficient five-on-five game and generated some quality looks on the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy, but failed to break through in a 14-shot frame.
Down by two through 20, things got worse for the Bruins at the 6:50 mark of the middle frame when Cedric Paquette found himself all alone in front of the Boston net and went upstairs on Rask for his seventh goal of the season.
But the Bruins kept their edge and continued to look for signs of life, and found it when some four-on-four play that opened up the ice for Charlie McAvoy’s fifth goal of the year, scored with 5:10 left in the second period.
….And then we all blacked out on account of the craziness that unfolded before our eyes with 1:23 left in the period.
With Zdeno Chara unsuccessfully trying to fight Sergachev (and then throwing Sergachev’s stick like 40 feet in the air), the Bruins appeared to score on a net-front flurry in front of Vasilevskiy, but the referee emphatically waved his arms to say no, the play moved the other way, and then the horn went off to signal a review.
The Bruins and Lightning used that horn as their signal to start brawling once again, however, as you had numerous B’s and Bolts squared off; Chara dropped them with Patrick Maroon (and Cirelli threw a cheap cross-check at Chara during that), and Sean Kuraly jumped in a fight as well. Lightning assistant coach Todd Richards even got tossed for something.
And at the end of the review, the Bruins were back within one on a goal credited to Kuraly.
But the B’s one-goal deficit was once again doubled in the third period thanks to an Alex Killorn power-play strike at the 1:08 mark of the period, good for Killorn’s 26th goal of the year, and putting the B’s back in a two-goal hole.
The Bruins would not go down without giving the Lightning their best punch (in every sense of the term), however, as David Pastrnak blasted a power-play strike through Vasilevskiy just five and a half minutes after the Killorn tally to bring the Bruins back within one. And Pastrnak later found himself with the game-tying goal on his stick on a breakaway, but was denied by the pad of Vasilevskiy to preserve the Bolts’ lead and stand as the biggest of his 35 saves by the night’s end.
“I thought we played — aside from the Pastrnak breakaway — I thought we controlled that third period,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of his team’s late-game shutdown. “We didn’t give them too much.”
It was the difference, too, as Nikita Kucherov capitalized on a David Krejci loss at the Boston blue to bury an empty-net strike with 1:02 remaining in the third period, which gave the Lightning their third win in four meetings with the B’s this season.
Goaltending and that disastrous two-minute power-play opportunity that ended with two goals in Rask’s net turned out to be the true difference in this contest, too. While Vasilevskiy finished with 35 stops, Rask struggled in what was definitely his worst key-game performance of the season, with four goals allowed on just 24 shots. And that two-goal hole, which was a mix of poor goaltending and lackadaisical team defense from the best five-man power-play unit in hockey, didn’t help negate that.
“You spot them two goals — like, look at what we did, we battled all night to get back into it, we never did. I mean, in terms of — we got back into it, sorry, but we never got the equalizer. It’s just, it’s a big hill to climb,” Cassidy admitted. “Lack of urgency on our top group. A little bit uncharacteristic, but it’s crept into our game. So, this will be good for us, for our power play, to get their attention a little bit. It’s crept into practice, it’s crept into our execution and urgency over the past, probably, month?
“So, a bit of a reset for us hopefully and get back to where we typically operate.”
The Bruins skated in this one without the services of second-pairing shutdown man Brandon Carlo. Knocked out of Thursday’s win with an elbow to the face from Evgenii Dadonov, Carlo was “feeling better” on Saturday, but was held out all the same. With Carlo out, defenseman John Moore appeared in his first game since Feb. 12 (after 10 straight healthy scratches to his name), and finished with two hits, three blocked shots, and a minus-1 in 18:09 of ice-time.
Up front, Anders Bjork was a healthy scratch for the third time in the last four games, joining forward Anton Blidh and freshly-activated Connor Clifton as the team’s suits on level nine. Karson Kuhlman, meanwhile, was returned to Providence.
The Bruins will get back to work on Tuesday night against the Metropolitan-best Flyers.