TAMPA – Just three weeks after ending a 10-game losing streak against Boston, the Tampa Bay Lightning were more than happy to put an end to the Boston Bruins disappointing season.
Victor Hedman scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Lightning a 3-2 win against the Bruins at Amalie Arena on Saturday.
Tampa Bay (50-24-8) will have home ice advantage against the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference First Round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens clinched the Atlantic Division title with a 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Pretty remarkable to think what this group has accomplished this year," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It’s just been a lot of fun to be with these guys. I told the guys, ‘Sit back tonight and enjoy this’. We’ve got a few days here to get prepared for Detroit, but they should sit back and reflect on what they accomplished. I don’t know how many teams reach 50 wins in a season."
Boston (41-27-14) was eliminated from playoff contention Saturday when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-0.
And in a very quiet Bruins locker room, the red eyes of defenseman Zdeno Chara said it all.
"It’s tough to find the words right now," Chara said. "It’s something that only the people and players in this room really know how it feels. I think we all feel disappointed."
Nikita Nesterov gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead at 5:12 in the third period on his second goal in the past two games. Nesterov took a slap shot outside of the right circle that beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask on the glove side with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos providing the screen.
The Bruins tied the game 2-2 at 18:54 of the third period when Brad Marchand scored his 24th goal. Boston pulled Rask with 90 seconds to bring an extra attacker on the ice.
"We continued to fight until the end," Chara said. "No matter what we were going to give everything we had. We played a solid 60 minutes and I wish we could have had a better outcome."
Jonathan Marchessault, who was recalled from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League on Saturday as an injury replacement for Jonathan Drouin, scored his first NHL goal to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead at 5:08 into the second period. He skated from the center to the right circle and sent a wrist shot past Rask high on the stick side.
"I jumped on the loose puck in the middle and I had a good shot at it," Marchessault said. "It was a good moment for me and it was fun to be part of this team with 50 wins."
The Bruins tied the game at 1-1, 52 seconds later, when Loui Eriksson scored his 22nd goal off a rebound in front of the net. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop made the save on Chris Kelly’s shot, but Eriksson fielded the loose puck clean on his stick and scored on the put back.
"It never should have come to this point, we had a lot more chances to get ourselves in the playoffs before [Saturday] and we shot ourselves in the foot," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "I never thought we’d be in this situation and it’s tough to get my head around it right now."
Bishop made 36 saves and stopped all three attempts in the shootout for his 40th win.
"It’s nice, you want to win as many games as you can," Bishop said. "It would have been nice if this one got us the division, but, you know, we’ve been playing well all year. But this part is over now and we’ve got to focus on game one."
Meanwhile, the Bruins can only think about what might have been.
"It’s a failed season for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "When you don’t make the playoffs, you fail. You’d like to think that everybody in there is a proud athlete and certainly not taking this lightly. We’ve just got to be ready to rebound here and hopefully get ourselves going in the right direction."