The Boston Bruins came into their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning riding a season-high five-game winning streak. This included their last away game of the regular season on Sunday, when they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks—a game that took place less than 24 hours after their Saturday win over the Florida Panthers. A win on Tuesday night would guarantee them a playoff slot.
As the game began it seemed that neither team was really connecting on their plays. Though the Bruins were outshooting Tampa, Andrei Vasilevskiy was keeping his Bolts in the game, making some highlight-reel saves.
It was beginning to look like it might be one of those north and south games where it came down to a battle of the goalies, when Bruin Brad Marchand took an ill-advised, and certainly an undisciplined, penalty. He was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for spearing Tampa’s defenseman, Jake Dotchin, with 40 seconds remaining in the opening twenty, which up to that point had remained scoreless.
Marchand has been a strong component of the Bruins penalty kill and leads the team in goals. However, the Bruins would now have to play two-thirds of a crucial game without this pivotal player.
The teams went into the first intermission with no score, but Boston would still have 4:20 remaining of Marchand’s penalty as the puck dropped on the second period. Even if Tampa did notch a goal on the man-advantage, they would continue on the power play for the full five minutes. This was not the position the Bruins wanted to be in at the top of the middle frame.
“For me, it looked like an undisciplined play,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. “He got called for it, and, you know, we had to kill the penalty and move on and play with 11 forwards, move people around, and, you know, make up for the loss of a very good player.”
Every one of the Bruins from their goaltender Tuukka Rask to the defensemen and up through the forwards stepped up their game; exhibiting what a real team sport hockey continues to be.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s when you get tested to your depth a little bit, and that’s, I believe we’ve got great depth here up front, and not only that, but our penalty kill, we’ve got guys who can step up,” said Drew Stafford after the game. “So, everyone in here has each other’s back, and we’re going to lift each other up when something like that happens. So for us to stick together like that, and obviously come out and swing the momentum our way and score some big goals, like I said that’s huge, because it easily could have gone the other way. You know what, though, it all starts with Tuukka [Rask]. Tuukka’s the rock here. He’s the backbone of the team, so we kind of feed off of him and he was unbelievable tonight.”
As the penalty came to an end, the Bruins had limited Tampa to just a pair of shots on net during the entire five minutes. Boston gained momentum from that and less than two minutes later Stafford—acquired at the trade deadline from the Winnipeg Jets—got the Bruins their first marker of the game on a beautiful backhand shot. For much of the second period the Bruins kept Tampa on their heels.
“What hurt was we had a four-and-a-half minute power play to start the second period and we did nothing with it and we weren’t even really a threat, so instead of that being an energy-boost for us… now you don’t need to score on it but you got to turn the tide of the game and we didn’t,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper shared postgame.
In addition to the full team effort trying to make plays and block shots, the Bruins were dominating in the face-off dot. While the final result saw the Bruins with 69% (36 of 52 face-offs), that makes it look much closer than it was, especially in the second period—when the Bruins were at an amazing 82% (31 out of 38 face-offs through the two periods). Patrice Bergeron went 17 for 17 on the night for 100%: 8 in the first, 8 in the second and 1 in the third.
It’s hard to do much when your players are having to chase the puck—which was exactly what was happening to the Lightning. Not a single one of their centers was above 50% on the night, and only Greg McKegg managed to break even in the circle with 4 of 8.
By the end of the game, the Bruins had scored four goals, while their goal tender, Rask, earned his eighth shutout of the season–a career season-high for him. He sits behind just Tim Thomas for most shutouts in a season. Thomas notched nine during the 2010-2011 season that saw the team ultimately bring back the Stanley Cup to Boston.
For the Bruins, there is certainly a confidence in their locker room and a pure joy in making the playoffs this year, after having missed it the previous two. They have two games remaining in the regular season—interestingly enough against the two teams, one of which they are likely to see in round one of the playoffs. So they will embrace the good vibrations from the win over Tampa and the relief that they have secured a playoff spot, but come Thursday night as the Ottawa Senators come to Boston, the Bruins will be looking to keep their winning streak going. They will close out their regular season with a Saturday late matinee hosting the Washington Capitals, who are likely to clinch the Eastern Conference.