The Bruins and Lightning played in a game last night that could only be described as a preview of the great playoff hockey only a month away. In a game between two of the top-scoring teams in the league offense was hard to come by. The game was physical defensively sound and for the majority of the night frustrating for Tampa. The Lightning came into the game having lost four of their last five, and without captain Steven Stamkos who will miss the rest of the regular season. The Bruins went into Tampa winners of their last two games in an impressive defensive fashion. This game was probably the most important game of the Bruin’s season so far. With a seven-point lead in the division and a chance to make it nine against a reeling Lightning team this was an opportunity that could not be missed.
The Bruins surprisingly came out looking like the team that was trailing in the standings. They were ready right from the drop of the puck and it showed early. Just about two and a half minutes into the game the Bruins were already on the power play. Tampa was able to kill it off but the Bruins kept the pressure on the Lightning and were by far the better team for the first half of the period. With just under six minutes to go, Carlo took a tripping penalty giving the Lightning a chance to seize momentum. The Bruins caught a huge break as a shot into traffic bounces at the feet of Tyler Johnson and with an open half of the net he fanned on the shot keeping the score tied at 0. With just over a minute to go in the first, an ill-timed icing would give the Bruins an offensive zone faceoff. The top line would go to work possessing the puck and creating chances all around the offensive zone. As the puck went around the boards a turnaround shot from Krug would bounce off Marchand's legs and into the net giving the Bruins the lead.
The momentum was clearly on the Bruins side as they started the second period strongly. For the first five minutes, the Bruins were once again the better team. Tampa would show some life as a point shot would find the back of the net. However, a coach’s challenge for offsides found a Tampa player had entered the offensive zone before the puck and the goal was disallowed. Tampa clearly frustrated by the call committed penalty just about a minute later giving the Bruins an opportunity to really take control. The power play, however, had different ideas making sloppy passes and giving up more short-handed chances then it created. It looked as if Tampa was starting to turn their game around. Just before the halfway mark of the period Jake Debrusk in his 200th career NHL game would have his best goal of the season. A tipped Tampa pass would find Debrusk with a step on their defense going through the neutral zone. The last Tampa defender would do his best even tripping Debrusk to the ice but the snake-bitten forward would not be denied this golden opportunity. Debrusk got back to his skates alone in the offensive zone and put his slick hands to work freezing Vasilevskiy then burying the puck in the net 2-0 Bruins. Just a few minutes later the Bruins would be on yet another power play with no results. Taking some momentum from yet another strong penalty kill Tampa would strike back with just under three minutes left in the period. A blocked shot in front of the net would find it's way onto the stick of Mitchell Stephens. Stephens was able to thread a shot between several players' legs and into the net cutting the lead to one. With just a few seconds left in the period, tempers would flare as Nordstrom and Gourde would drop the gloves. Nordstrom would get in the majority of the punches but a turtling Gourde would pull him off balance and take him down to the ice. The period would end with the score the Bruins 2 and the Lightning 1.
Tampa was by far the better team to start the third period with the Bruins playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Rask would save the lead for the Bruins stopping Cirelli on a breakaway chance just five minutes into the period. The Bruins would create sporadic chances but Tampa was clearly in control of the puck possession game consistently having extended time in the offensive zone. The Bruins almost seemed content to just dump the puck out of the zone only to let Tampa regain the puck and bring it right back in. Rask would continue to make some big stops to keep the one-goal lead for his team. Tampa simply did not have it's finish in this game missing several shots high or wide of the net. In what could only be described as survival the Bruins would weather the late Tampa storm to escape with a 2-1 victory.
Three Stars/Final Thoughts
The first star of the game goes to Tuukka Rask. With 20 saves on 21 shots, Rask was a huge reason the Bruins walked away with two points as he continued his Vezina caliber season. The second star goes to Jake Debrusk. With the game-winning goal on such a great effort play getting him back on the score sheet, hopefully, this is the start of an offensive explosion for the streaky winger. The third and final star of the game goes to Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. With 33 saves on 35 shots Vasilevskiy did his best to buy Tampa time till their offense woke up. Fortunately, Rask was ready and on his game tonight preventing that strategy from working.
This was a big win for the Bruins but it could just have easily been a crushing loss. When a team has dominated for the first forty minutes why would they suddenly decide to just play defense? This was a classic example of playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Tampa controlled the third period continually gaining offensive momentum but they just couldn't finish. That is an incredibly dangerous game to play against a team with so much offensive talent. Very happy with the win but also very thankful Rask was on his game and that Tampa didn't bring their finish. The Bruins will play at Florida on Thursday before a rematch with the Lightning in Boston on Saturday, a game that could lock up the division for the Bruins. As always please don't forget to check out our other team's pages. With spring training underway, NFL free agency around the corner, and the Celtics in the heat of a playoff race keep up to date on everything happening in Boston sports.
Featured image courtesy of Kim Klement USA Today Sports.