BOSTON -- The feelings spilled out, a mixture of competitiveness and feistiness and adrenaline. It was there in the extra effort, in the physicality, in the final dagger, when Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand scored into an empty net with 56 seconds remaining in the third period to secure a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.
Marchand waved his arms, saying to his linemates, "It's over."
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The Bruins had just beaten the Lightning for the third time this season, unseating them from first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time since Oct. 19 and knocking them from the top spot in the Eastern Conference. And they did it without Zdeno Chara, without Charlie McAvoy, without Rick Nash, without Jake DeBrusk, who are injured.
"It was an emotional game," goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "Even I got into it."
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That he did, his second-period altercation with Cory Conacher earning Rask a double-minor for roughing at 11:16 and sending a jolt throughout the Bruins lineup. He wasn't the only one, with David Pastrnak standing up for Patrice Bergeron after a hit by Dan Girardi.
"Stuff happens in the heat of the moment," Rask said. "Hopefully I don't start doing that every game. I have to go have a couple beers now just to cool off."
He's not alone.
"The emotion, the drive out there, it was tough," defenseman Torey Krug said. "Every inch of ice was earned."
And the two points.
The Bruins have 107 points, the second-most in the NHL to the Nashville Predators (111). They have the best goal differential, at plus-57, and still have a game in hand on the Lightning.
The Bruins came out firing, with 17 shots in the first period, and scored goals 32 seconds apart. The first came from Tim Schaller at 19:02 when he crashed the net and saw a rebound from a shot by Tommy Wingels go in off his stick blade. The second came from Pastrnak with 26 seconds remaining, with assists from Krug and Bergeron.
And though the Lightning would twice cut the lead to one -- on a J.T. Miller power-play goal at 1:44 of the second period to make it 2-1, and from Victor Hedman at 13:54 of the third to make it 3-2, after a Bergeron goal at 11:59 had extended Boston's lead to 3-1 -- they would not come back.
The Bruins skated away with the victory, with the confidence, with first place.
Video: Bergeron gets three points in 4-2 win over Lightning
"There were plenty of willing combatants that were stepping up for each other, sticking together, and when the team sticks together like that it feels like there are eight guys on the ice instead of just five," forward David Backes said. "And that's a good feeling to have in this room."
There have been a lot of good feelings in the Bruins dressing room, especially since Dec. 16 when they began a 33-7-7 run that would bring them to this point, to a position that few expected them to occupy this late in the season.
"We knew we had a good hockey club the way we finished last year, if we got healthy," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We're adding some young guys; there's uncertainty there. Would we have said we'd be the No. 1 seed? No, probably not. But we certainly thought we were a playoff-caliber team, and where we went from there throughout the year would depend on the growth of some of these younger players."
They have grown, and taken the Bruins with them. It showed on Thursday, as it has shown for the past four months.
Now that growth has turned into a No. 1 spot, into a statement-making win, a game that combined passion and physicality and all the most fun aspects of hockey and rivalry and one that could potentially be repeated in the second round of the postseason.
If so, it was quite a preview.
"This definitely had a playoff feel to it, obviously we all know how big it was for the standings, and what it meant to both teams," Marchand said. "It was great to see the guys react the way they did and have the game we did."
As he said on the ice in those waning seconds, it was over. At least until Tuesday at Amalie Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, TVAS, NESN), when they face off once more, perhaps again with first place on the line.