A playoff-level atmosphere?
An unreal amount of saves – stick saves, pad saves, sprawling saves, breakaway saves, saves off the line, etc. -- from goalies in both nets?
Check and check
A constant barrage of bone-jarring hits?
Check, as in check your teeth to make sure they’re still all there.
Ummm, ok, so maybe not everything.
The Lightning sent a season-high 42 shots at Bruins goalie Jonas Gustavsson Tuesday night at Amalie Arena. None of them found their way into the back of the net.
Likewise, Bolts goalie Ben Bishop was equally brilliant, swatting away all 32 Boston shots in regulation.
The only shot in overtime, however, would prove to be the only shot needed.
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron won the opening draw of the extra frame, and immediately the rush was on, Bergeron carrying the puck down the right wing and centering to Brad Marchand on the back post, Marchand redirecting the puck past Bishop, the Bruins doing in 10 seconds what neither team could do combined over 60 minutes.
The Bruins pulled into a tie with the Lightning on points atop the Atlantic Division, but the Bolts, with a game in hand, remain in first.
Tuesday’s game had much to talk about. We’ll hit the major points in today’s 3 Things.
1. PLAYOFF PREVIEW?
Although it was merely regular-season game No. 68 out of 82 for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tuesday’s matchup against the Boston Bruins felt like a preview of what might come in the postseason.
Despite both teams playing the second half of a back-to-back set on Tuesday, the game was fast-paced from the start and never really wavered.
The game was physical.
The game was intense.
Fans nervously chewed their nails with each loose puck. Every whistle was met with derision or cheers.
The game certainly had all the elements of a playoff contest.
Lightning forward Brian Boyle agreed.
“You could tell it’s building a little bit,” he said. “It’s two teams that want to compete and have the same goals in mind and it’s a division game. The effort was there. The compete was there. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the two points.”
A couple weeks ago, it looked like a Tampa Bay-Boston First Round matchup might be a real scenario with the two teams occupying second and third place, respectively, in the Atlantic Division.
Now, with both the Lightning and Bruins leapfrogging Florida in the division, that matchup would have to come later.
Still, it feels like these two teams aren’t finished playing one another this season.
And if games like the one fans were treated two Tuesday are the result, who wouldn’t want to see more contests between these two?
2. A POINT TO PROVE
Tampa Bay’s franchise record nine-game win streak was unceremoniously curbed following a dismal performance in Philadelphia on Monday night.
The circumstances surrounding the Bolts’ visit to the City of Brotherly Love were difficult to be sure. The team had just completed an exhausting four-games-in-eight-days road trip, one they didn’t arrive back in Tampa from until 3:30 a.m. Friday morning. The next day, the Bolts played a home game against Arizona. Less than 24 hours later, they were back on a plane for Philly to start a home-and-away back-to-back against two teams fighting for playoff positioning, or in the Flyers’ case, their playoff lives.
The Lightning were exhausted, and they played like it in Philadelphia as they were able to get off just 18 shots, tying a season low. Only an unreal performance by backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy kept the Bolts from getting blown out.
The Lightning were eager to prove Monday’s result was merely an aberration and not the beginning of a troubling trend.
“We just had to compete a lot better than we did the night before,” Boyle said. “I think we did. We want to execute. It’s a game of results, but it was a lot better, that’s for sure.”
The Lightning had more shots through the first 30 minutes against the Bruins than they did the entire game versus Philly. Everybody on the Bolts registered at least one shot except Andrej Sustr, and Sustr had a few really good shots at the net from distance that missed just wide or went begging for a redirect that wasn’t there.
“We know we have it in us, that’s for sure, but certainly it’s nice to play back-to-back after a performance like the night before,” Boyle said. “That’s not who we are as a team. We don’t show that very often if at all. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get two tonight, but we had our chances. We competed pretty hard. We’re still trying to work to get better before the playoffs start
3. MAKESHIFT BACK LINE
The Lightning were already reeling defensively with injuries to Braydon Coburn (lower body) and Andrej Sustr (upper body) when the team announced Anton Stralman would sit Tuesday’s game versus Boston due to illness.
Stralman had never missed a game since coming to the Bolts as a free agent prior to the 2014-15 season. Stralman has only been unable to participate in two games since the start of the 2013-14 season, which also includes two lengthy playoff runs to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Lightning had Slater Koekkoek up from Syracuse to help with the losses of Coburn and Sustr. With Stralman likely out too, Luke Witkowski was recalled Tuesday afternoon.
The Bolts got a bit of good news when Sustr took part in warmups and deemed himself good to go for the game. That sent Witkowski back to Syracuse as he was only in Tampa on an emergency recall basis.
Still, the Lightning would have to play an offensively-talented Boston team without two of their most experienced blue liners in Stralman and Coburn.
The makeshift back line performed admirably in their absence.
Nikita Nesterov, coming off a subpar performance in Philadelphia, played one of his best games a night later, moving the puck with confidence and matching the physicality of the Bruins. Sustr showed no ill effects from the injury that kept him out of the previous three games and continued to display the growth in his game.
Hedman was, well, Hedman, creating plays on one end with his tremendous skating ability and eliminating plays on the back end with his defensive prowess.
Jason Garrison, Matt Carle and Slater Koekkoek all had good games as well.
Boston had 33 shots on net but only a few Grade-A scoring chances in the game. What little the Bolts’ blue line did give the Bruins, Ben Bishop was able to take away with another strong game in net.
Stralman should be back Friday in the rematch against Philly at Amalie Arena. Hopefully Coburn will be too. The Lightning will be glad to have both in the lineup again, but their effort Tuesday while shorthanded was commendable.