BOSTON - The Bruins knew clinching a postseason spot would not be easy. Winning in the National Hockey League never is.
But things got even tougher in the closing seconds of the first period.
After a tussle in front of the Tampa Bay net, Brad Marchand was penalized for spearing Jake Dotchin. The Bruins' No. 1 left wing was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct, ending his night much earlier than he expected.
But Marchand's teammates knew what was at stake Tuesday night. The Black & Gold's first postseason berth in three years was hanging in the balance.
So, as they have all season, the Bruins responded to adversity.
Boston killed off the five-minute penalty, and just over a minute later Drew Stafford backhanded one by Andrei Vasilevsky to break a nine-game scoreless stretch and get the Bruins on the board.
The Bruins then added three more goals, en route to a 4-0 victory over the Lightning to secure the team's first playoff appearance since 2013-14.
Video: Bruins clinch playoff berth with 4-0 win vs. Bolts
"I thought it was a game-changer," David Krejci, who had two assists and has seven goals and three assists over his last 14 games, said of the penalty kill. "That was really good PK by us. We also had a couple good chances. After that, we kind of took over and never looked back."
Tuukka Rask made 28 saves for his league-leading - and career-high - eighth shutout of the season and David Pastrnak added two goals, including an empty-netter with 1:02 remaining. Zdeno Chara also launched a rocket from the right face-off dot for a power-play tally midway through the third to extend Boston's lead to 3-0.
"It feels great…I think the city deserves it," said Rask. "The organization deserves it and we feel like we deserve it, too. We fought hard all year to secure a spot…it took 80 games, so it's a good feeling. I think everybody can breathe a little easier now, but we've still got two games left and then real game starts…but great accomplishment."
Video: Bruins speak with media after clinching playoffs
The victory was Boston's sixth consecutive win, pushing them into third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins are tied with Ottawa with 94 points, but the Senators have a game in hand, while Toronto - now the second wild card team - sits one point behind both teams.
After a four-game losing streak towards the end of March, holding such a position in the standings was no guarantee.
"It was a battle, for sure, and there've been some ups and downs," said Patrice Bergeron, who was an incredible 17 for 17 at the face-off dot. "But, I think the character we've shown, especially lately to get back, after the four straight losses…to get back and win six in a row and secure that spot was pretty special and we've got to keep that going."
For Bergeron - and the rest of the remaining members of the 2011 Stanley Cup team - a return trip to the playoffs bring with it a special feeling.
"I think maybe - especially in the years past - we kind of take it for granted a bit and it seems like it's definitely something that you have to appreciate," said Bergeron. "It's been two years. It's been a long time coming for us. There are a lot of guys in this room that haven't had a taste of it yet.
"So, we should be excited for it. Everyone should be excited just to be in it and to be in a position now where we can work on our rankings."
Video: TBL@BOS: Chara drills a blistering one-timer for PPG
The postseason berth is also particularly rewarding for interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, who has led the Black & Gold to an 18-7-0 record since taking over in early February.
"Extremely gratifying," said Cassidy. "It's not the circumstances anybody wants to draw up, but it happened, and you go to work, you try to get the team where you think it needs to be and do the things that you feel are necessary, and to continue to get better.
"I [think] we've done that. And this is the first step, we'll see where it goes from here."
Indeed, we will. But one thing is for certain: after two quiet springs, playoff hockey is returning to Causeway Street.
"This team has a swagger," said Torey Krug. "There's just something about this group that really clicks. Guys are playing for each other and playing the right way at this time of year. Maybe in years past, we weren't playing the right way.
"This was a big moment and we stepped up in a big moment and that's been important. The last six games, we've been on a roll and we need to continue that."
Video: TBL@BOS: Stafford backhands a rebound from the slot