TAMPA - As the Bruins prepped for Tuesday's tilt against the Lightning, Bruce Cassidy was a bit unsure of how his lineup would shake out. With Brad Marchand feeling under the weather and a game-time decision, Boston's top six was very much in flux.
If Marchand was going to be sidelined, it was Cassidy's intention to elevate Jake DeBrusk to be his top-line left wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Normally No. 2 on the Black & Gold depth chart, it seemed like a natural fit.
Plus, Cassidy believed the move could provide DeBrusk - without a point in his previous 10 contests - with a much-needed boost. In the end, all of Cassidy's thinking was for naught when Marchand gave the green light after warmups. A night as the Bruins' top-line left wing was not in the cards for DeBrusk.
Nevertheless, the 23-year-old still made his mark, potting the eventual winning goal with a beautiful breakaway snipe midway through the second period to lift Boston to a 2-1 victory over the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
"It's nice to see when you play the right way and you're on pucks and chipping behind them and not getting ridden out of the play easily," said Cassidy, whose team moved 9 points clear of Tampa for the Atlantic Division lead. "He's a guy that at his age, scoring matters, maybe more than some other guys. I'm glad he got playing the right way. It wasn't freebee. He earned it because he was playing hard."
That's for sure.
Despite being without a goal since Feb. 8 against Arizona, DeBrusk's pace had picked up in recent days, as evidenced by his strong surge ahead of the winning tally. After Charlie Coyle deflected a Tampa pass into the neutral zone, DeBrusk turned on the jets and lunged for the loose puck at the Lightning blue line.
At the same time, Tampa blue liner Zach Bogosian dived to try to knock it away, taking DeBrusk down in the process. With a delayed penalty called, DeBrusk - playing in his 200th career game - popped up, collected the puck, and finished off the breakaway with a filthy top-shelf tally for his 19th of the season and a 2-0 Bruins lead with 9:54 remaining in the second period.
"He was persistent…another night maybe he goes down on that one and he doesn't get up," said Cassidy. "You just don't know…he stuck with it and he got rewarded at the end. I thought their line was excellent."
Video: BOS@TBL: DeBrusk beats Vasilevskiy on the break
DeBrusk, who played with Coyle and Chris Wagner for much of the night, was relieved to break his three-week goalless stretch.
"Anytime it goes in the net, it's a good feeling," said DeBrusk. "I haven't seen that in a while. It's always nice, kind of just the play overall. That's kind of what I want to be, use my speed and effort. Was just nice to contribute.
"I tried to fake him out and just raise it. Haven't had too many Grade As, so knew I had to make a good move on it. I thought I had time. Definitely surprised it went in the net."
While potting 16 and 27 goals, respectively, in his first two NHL campaigns, DeBrusk has developed a bit of a streaky reputation. With the stretch run in full swing and the postseason fast approaching, he hopes one of his hot streaks is on the horizon.
"Hopefully I get hot at the right time," said DeBrusk. "That's one of the main things. Usually in the past, I have gotten better around this time…just overall mentally. It's a matter of sticking with it and grinding it out and understanding that these things do happen. Just a matter of trying to limit those. But hopefully I have a hot streak."
Video: DeBrusk talks with media after win against Lightning
Marchand Battles Through
One Bruins winger who is already riding a hot streak is Marchand, though for much of Tuesday it looked like it may be put on hold. After missing morning skate with an illness, the winger was termed a game-time decision by Cassidy. But Marchand made it through warmups and declared himself well enough to play - a choice that worked out quite well for the Black & Gold.
Marchand extended his goal streak to four games when he crashed hard to the net and tapped home a brilliant Torey Krug feed to put Boston up, 1-0, with 55 seconds to go in the first. The marker was also the 290th of Marchand's career, moving him past Ken Hodge for seventh on the Bruins' all-time goals list.
"That's actually the first time when I was sick that I did anything decent in a game," said Marchand, who now has goals in five of his last six, elevating his total to 28 on the season. "Normally you're more of a liability, but it's just great that we won. It was obviously a big game anthey're a good team. Great that we showed up."
Marchand said postgame that he had a case of food poisoning from some bad salmon he ate for dinner on Monday night. With his energy level down, he played just 14:36.
"Been better, got through it thought," said Marchand. "I don't think I've played 14 minutes in 10 years. Tried to keep the shifts short. Felt bad for Bergy and Pasta having to put up with me, but we got it done. It was a good win."
Video: Marchand meets with media after Tuesday win
Locking It Down
The Lightning pushed hard over the final 20 minutes, but finished with just 21 shots on goal, as the Bruins put forth another strong defensive effort. Tuukka Rask led the way with 20 saves, including a stellar breakaway stop on Anthony Cirelli to keep Boston ahead midway through the third period.
"Awesome [defensive effort], same thing we continued from Long Island," said Rask. "Both ends of the ice, being above the puck at all times. Even when we got caught in our own end a couple times, but we managed to sort it out and defend the middle. A great defensive game."
Boston also benefitted from an offside review in the first period. It appeared as if the Lightning had tied the game, 1-1, on a Yanni Gourde tally at 5:24 of the second. But the Bruins challenged, and after review the goal was wiped off the board, keeping them up a goal.
"Got a break from a post, got an offside break, where we got one of those that went our way to help us win a game," said Cassidy. "[Rask was] good when he had to be. I thought their goalie [Andrei Vasilevskiy] was excellent as well. It's two Vezina Trophy candidates in my estimation. You expect them to be good and they were."
Video: Marchand, DeBrusk lift Bruins to victory
Extending the Lead
With the victory, the Bruins opened up a 9-point lead on the Lightning for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The two teams will meet again on Saturday night at TD Garden.
"It's definitely an important game," said Krug. "I think both teams knew going into it that it was gonna be a good matchup, a fun one, a close game. For us to go up 9 points especially before Saturday's game when we play them again, it's definitely an important 2 points to collect."
Video: Krug talks to media after win in Tampa Bay