Hot teams seem to get the bounces, and few teams are hotter than the Boston Bruins
Milan Lucic capitalized on a lucky bounce to score the go-ahead goal with 3:42 left in regulation and the Bruins won their seventh in a row by edging the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Thursday night.
Lucic avoided a pileup in front of the net and was in the right place when the puck deflected off an official's skate. He lifted it over a mess of bodies for the game-winner, giving the Bruins a victory in their return to Boston after a 6-0-0 road trip.
"I was just trying to look for the loose puck because there was enough guys in front of the net," said Lucic, who scored his team-high 28th of the season. "I knew there was no real reason for me to get in there but just kind of wait around, see if something popped out and it did."
The win moved the Bruins past the Lightning into second place in the Eastern Conference with 83 points. The teams entered the game with identical 37-19-7 records. The Bruins also clinched the season series with their third win in four meetings and moved within three points of Philadelphia for first place in the Eastern Conference.
"That's what everyone says when you're on the road and you have some wins. You come home from a long road trip and you're not as sharp. But we wanted to be sharp," forward Nathan Horton said.
Steven Kampfer scored for Boston and Tim Thomas had 27 saves for the Bruins, who have allowed five goals in their past five games.
Coach Claude Julien said the Bruins have been playing with more patience lately, which has led to tighter defense and clutch scoring.
"Let's not focus so much on the end result more than what we have to do to get it. Our guys were ready to do what we had to do," Julien said. "I think the fact that we're a physical team certainly gave us a little more space as well."
Tampa Bay still leads the Southeast Division despite back-to-back 2-1 losses at New Jersey and Boston on consecutive nights, though the margin is down to one point on second-place Washington. The Lightning couldn't capitalize on a strong comeback night by goalie Mike Smith, who was making his NHL first start since December.
Smith, who has been rehabilitating a knee injury, stopped 26 shots for the Lightning, who were also without injured captain Vincent Lecavalier.
"The guys are gassed and we hung on. We hung on," coach Guy Boucher said. "It's very difficult to accept that we don't deserve one point. We deserved one point yesterday. We deserved one point tonight - that would have been four points out of six on a tough road trip, so it didn't turn our way."
Eric Brewer scored for Tampa Bay, which returns home to host Montreal on Saturday night.
Smith was making his first start in Boston since Dec. 2, when he was pulled after allowing five goals on 22 shots in an 8-1 loss. Smith was sharp this time, stopping several point-blank shots by Boston and keeping the Bruins from breaking the tie until Lucic's goal.
"We wanted to make sure, we talked about it in the first and second intermission and even before the game, just stick with it," Lucic said. "Stick with the good habits and stick with the confidence. Stick with having fun out there and good things will happen."
Lucic started the play with a centering pass to Horton, who was leveled right away as the pileup began. Tampa Bay never got control of the puck, which drifted right to Lucic at the left side of the net.
"They got an extra bounce and we didn't," Smith said.
Brewer put the Lightning up 1-0 on a slap shot from inside the blue line 4:04 into the second period. It was the first goal as a member of the Lightning for Brewer, picked up Feb. 18 in a trade with St. Louis.
The lead barely lasted 2 minutes, when Kampfer blasted a slap shot past Smith off assists by Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, who were making their home debuts for the Bruins.
After that, the game turned nasty
Tampa Bay's Steve Downie and Boston's Shawn Thornton got 10-minute misconducts after Chris Kelly went crashing into Smith and the Lightning net. Each whistle after that was followed by a scrum, although none developed into an actual fight until Lucic and Brewer dropped the gloves while the officials were separating other players.
Horton was heading to the penalty box already and Lucic was called for roughing and fighting, giving the Lightning a 5-on-3 for 1:53.
The Bruins snuffed the Lightning during the advantage, allowing only a couple of shots.
"I think that was the turning point right there," Julien said. "Our guys did an outstanding job on that 5-on-3, where we didn't give them much. We were patient. We didn't start running around."
Boston actually got a breakaway when Horton picked up the puck after leaving the penalty box, but Smith stopped him with his right pad.
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report