This final regular season matchup between the Lightning and Bruins had a little (or more than a little) of everything. Physical play. Fights. Misconducts. Power play goals. Shorthanded goals. Momentum swings. Key saves. And, for the Lightning, a five-man defense corps after Victor Hedman was only able to play seven total shifts.
The Lightning wanted to give the Bruins a better game than what Tampa Bay produced in Tuesday's loss at Amalie Arena. Without question, they did that. The Lightning built an early lead and withstood a couple of Boston comeback efforts to hand the Bruins just their fourth home regulation loss of the season. Just as importantly, the Lightning brought a high compete-level to the ice and maintained it throughout the game. That was evident not only in how hard they battled during play, but also how much they stuck together during numerous post-whistle scrums.
Prior to this game, the Lightning had netted four shorthanded goals this season. The first two of those took place on November 27 against Buffalo and were scored on the same penalty. They replicated that feat tonight. Anthony Cirelli stole a puck in the defensive zone, countered with Cedric Paquette on a two-on-one, and beat Tuukka Rask cleanly on the stick side. Later on the same kill, Yanni Gourde fed Mikhail Sergachev in the slot and Sergachev wristed a shot past Rask's glove. In Tuesday's game at Amalie Arena, the Lightning had managed just one total goal on Rask. In this contest, they scored on each of their first two shots.
Not long after the two Lightning shorties, the physical play picked up. Barclay Goodrow and Chris Wagner had an "almost" fight - resulting in matching minors - before having an actual fight moments after coming out of the penalty box. That was around the time that Victor Hedman left the bench for the locker room, where he remained for the rest of the first period. During the second half of the first period, the Lightning had some issues with puck management and coverage. The Bruins buzzed around the Lightning's end and produced a number of dangerous chances. But Andrei Vasilevskiy was terrific in turning aside all 14 first period shots he faced.
Hedman returned for the second. However, he only played three more shifts. For the remainder of the game, he stayed on the bench, but didn't play. Still, the Lightning found their rhythm in the second. They controlled play for most of the frame - and added to their lead when Zach Bogosian took the puck behind the Boston net, drew both Boston defenders to him, and centered a pass to an unguarded Paquette in front of the net. Paquette roofed a shot over Rask's stick.
In the final five minutes of the period, however, the Bruins pushed back. Charlie McAvoy scored off the rush during a four-on-four to get Boston on the board and then, with under two minutes left, Sean Kuraly slid in a rebound. This part of the game also featured several post-whistle altercations, resulting in a handful of penalties, 10-minute misconducts and even a game misconduct on Lightning associate coach Todd Richards. The Bruins almost tied the game during a late second period power play and were poised to carry that man advantage into the third. But Brad Marchand took a slashing penalty after the buzzer, negating the rest of the Boston power play. Instead, after a four-on-four segment, the Lightning went on the man advantage early in the third. Alex Killorn tipped in a Sergachev shot to re-establish a two-goal lead.
The Bruins made another push after David Pastrnak's league-leading 20th power play goal cut the Lightning lead to 4-3 with 13:23 remaining. A few minutes later, Vasilevskiy made a breakaway save on Pastrnak to preserve the lead. But in the closing minutes, the Lightning effectively shut the door. They cleanly cleared pucks out of their own end minimized the amount of time the Bruins had in the offensive zone. Nikita Kucherov sealed the win when he stripped David Krejci at the Boston blue line and scored into the empty net.
The Lightning will have a short turnaround before facing Detroit at 5:00 PM on Sunday. With Hedman limited to just seven shifts tonight and Ryan McDonagh nearing a return, we'll see what the lineup looks like when they hit the ice.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Anthony Cirelli - Lightning. SHG.
- Erik Cernak - Lightning.
- Charlie Coyle - Bruins. Assist.