The Boston Bruins—who had David Backes, Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner back—started the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning as though they had been the ones charged by lightning. From the first puck drop the team in black and gold executed their game plan.
Many had worried about Bruins’ Head Coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to start Tuukka Rask again after his loss on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers. Rask’s confidence may be a bit shaky, but the only way for him to improve is to get some wins. At the beginning of the game, as the players in front of him played hard, fast and with determination, it did look like he may have been struggling to get his rhythm back. He also wasn’t seeing much rubber as the Bruins kept the Lightning from getting many opportunities.
As the first period ended the Bruins were on the board with two goals on 19 shots, while Tampa had been denied on the five shots they managed to get on Rask. The Bruins had limited Steven Stamkos to a single shot in the opening frame and had only one penalty—a slashing call on Marchand that actually negated a power play the Bruins had been on.
The first goal was originally waved off on the ice, as the referee believed there had been goaltender interference. However, after Coach Cassidy used his challenge, the call on the ice was overturned and the goal was awarded. It was Charlie McAvoy’s third goal of the season, with assists from David Pastrnak and Marchand.
The second goal was the result of some strong play at the other end of the ice that resulted in Marchand getting the puck to Danton Heinen, who made a beautiful pass right on the stick of Riley Nash. ash sent his wrist shot glove side high getting it past Andrei Vasilevskiy—who really was giving Tampa a chance to stay in the game.
Despite having been out for six games with injury, it was evident that Marchand was back and determined to do whatever he could for the team. In that opening period he had the secondary assist on both of the Bruins’ goals. And he contributed two shots on net in the first twenty minutes. During his twelve shifts on the ice he accumulated 7:15 of ice time to start the game, which was third on the team behind McAvoy (9:20) and Zdeno Chara (7:18).
As the second period got underway, the physicality between the two teams increased, some by choice and some perhaps by accident. At the 2:26 mark of the period, Tampa’s Cedric Paquette slammed Krug into the boards. As Krug crumpled, Frank Vatrano took exception and headed toward Paquette. The two tussled, additional bodies tried to get involved, and as the men in stripes put a stop to it, Vatrano was down on the ice. Both Paquette and Vatrano were assessed two penalties each. Paquette got two for the boarding of Krug and two for roughing. Vatrano was given two for tripping Paquette and two for roughing.
Two minutes and four seconds later, Mikhail Sergachev and Marchand joined them in their respective sin bins. Sergachev was given two for interference and Marchand received two minutes for embellishment. It was while the teams were playing four-on-four at this time that Boston would get their third, and final, goal of the game. Down in Tampa’s end, Spooner worked hard to keep the puck on his stick until he could make a saucer pass to Krug, who fired off a one-timer that Vasilevskiy just couldn’t stop. Five minutes later Tampa would finally find the net behind Rask, as Andrej Sustr got his first goal of the season, assisted by Braydon Coburn and Chris Kunitz.
“Obviously it was a big goal, the way the game turned out. But as far as momentum swings in the game, I think Frankie [Frank Vatrano] did a great job stepping in there,” Krug said of his game-winning goal. “Sticking up for his teammates, doing his thing. We were able to get out there and get one for him, and I give him a lot of credit for that.”
Going into the second intermission the score remained 3-1 in favor of Boston and the Bruins had again outshot Tampa, this time 13-7, for a two-period total of 32-12. It became unquestionable that Sustr’s goal gave the Lightning some life and determination to get back in the game. And that life would continue to grow as the game went on.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, just 46 seconds into the third period, Brandon Carlo was whistled for interference—a penalty he has taken a few times this season—and it would end up being a costly penalty as Steven Stamkos notched his eighth power play goal of the season, cutting the Bruins lead to just a single goal. A one-goal game and almost a full 18 minutes of game time remaining? Tampa began their push.
“We didn’t have near the desperation that [the Bruins] had in the first period,” Tampa’s head coach Jon Cooper shared postgame. “We were a step behind which was obvious and it was unfortunate because it ended up costing us the game. But, you know, as the game slowly went on, we slowly tilted the ice and you know, by the time we got to the third period we were doing all the right things.”
The third period saw Tampa outshoot the Bruins 9-4. As the period continued it would be the Bruins who would be icing the puck trying to break Tampa’s focus, especially during the last minute and a half after Vasilevskiy was pulled and the Lightning had the extra attacker on the ice.
In the end Rask would make some key saves to keep the Bruins on the winning side maintaining the one-goal lead until the final buzzer sounded. Some felt that the Bruins had once again not brought a full 60 minutes of effort. However, when looking at the statistics of the two teams heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Bruins were sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They were taking on the league-leading Lightning. The Lightning were bound to bring a better effort as the game continued, and this did not mean that the Bruins weren’t.
“They obviously were going to make their push at some point,” Krug said about the third period. “They’re a great team with a very deep lineup. We felt that we were getting chances, and we didn’t stick to our game, and that was a big part of it.”
In fact, as they went up 3-0, it perhaps gave them a feeling that they could perhaps spend a bit more time trying to find that pretty goal, instead of continuing to hammer the shots on net and deny the Lightning the same opportunity at the other end. This didn’t mean they weren’t playing a full 60 minutes. It just meant that they may have subconsciously believed that they had the time and space to try and make those prettier goals. It was that getting away from their game plan that almost cost them the win.
The Bruins do not play again until Saturday, when they will again be on the road. They will head to Philadelphia to meet the Flyers before going west to the land of country music, where they will play the Predators on Monday. Their next home game will be Thursday, December 7th, when they play host to the Arizona Coyotes.