TAMPA — Claude Julien just had a feeling. He had gone through a good chunk of his forwards — Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg and Brad Marchand and Jarome Iginla and David Krejci — and each of them had come up empty against Ben Bishop in the shootout.
His next move was Reilly Smith. Julien told assistant Doug Houda, “It’s going to end here.”
The coaches had a bit of a competition going. Houda had made his pick. He had picked wrong. Julien went with Smith, despite the forward’s goal scoring drought, which stretched back 10 games.
“That was my only guess,” Julien said. “He owes me supper. We’ll be going to McDonald’s for breakfast tomorrow.”
The goal, coming in the seventh round of a previously goal-less shootout, gave the Bruins a 4-3 win over the Lightning on Saturday and 2 points, keeping them just 1 behind Pittsburgh in the race for first in the Eastern Conference.
Said Julien, “You get that gut feeling, and I said, ‘You know what? This is probably a good chance for Smitty to get himself going.’ Hopefully that’s a lot of weight off his shoulders and hopefully he can start finding his stride again.”
Smith had raced to the top of the Bruins in goals early in the season, but he got stuck at 18 after scoring in three straight games late in January. It wore on him.
Had he felt like he was due?
“Yeah, maybe like eight or nine games ago,” said Smith, who was replaced for a few shifts on the second line by Daniel Paille at the start of the third period. “It’s been longer than I hoped to get back, but if I can help out the team, that’s really all that matters.”
Early on, it hadn’t seemed like a shootout would be necessary. It hadn’t seemed like it would be in doubt nearly that long. The Bruins started without a shot for the game’s first 13:54, with Chris Kelly finally breaking through on a soft attempt on Bishop.
They had managed to keep the game scoreless through the first period, but it took just 27 seconds into the second for them to give up their first.
Tuukka Rask came out of the crease and pokechecked Tyler Johnson, but Ondrej Palat got the rebound and put it into the vacated net for the shorthanded score. It was the first goal for the Lightning against the Bruins since Oct. 3, as Boston had come into the game riding two consecutive shutouts of Tampa Bay.
The Lightning scored again not long after, with a Mark Barberio shot from the blue line beating Rask five-hole with Nate Thompson acting as the screener in front at 4:13. Rask said he didn’t see the shot until the last second, adding that he thought it hit the skate of Matt Bartkowski.
But the Bruins came back to tie the score on two pretty goals. The first one came courtesy of Paille, who went from forehand to backhand, putting the puck past Bishop with his back to the net at 6:58 of the second. And just 91 seconds later, Soderberg got another, through the legs of Bishop, on a breakaway.
That tie lasted all of 62 seconds. Valtteri Filppula put the Lightning back on top at 9:31.
“Every goal that they scored, to our standards, were mistakes,” Julien said. “You kind of look at the situation and I thought we were skating well enough and had enough momentum for us to get ourselves back in the game. It was just about coming out in the third and really pushing to get that next goal, and that’s exactly what we did.”
It looked like the Bruins had tied the score at 6:05 of the third, when Bergeron stuffed a puck behind Bishop on the power play. But, as the NHL ruled, “The referee informed the Situation Room that he had lost sight of the puck and was in the process of blowing his whistle to stop play before it crossed the Tampa Bay goal line.”
Therefore the play was not reviewable, so the call on the ice stood. It was a no goal.
Not then, but just 2:06 later, they scored a goal that counted when Johnny Boychuk ripped a shot past Bishop (29 saves) from the point, causing the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum to erupt in cheers.
“You could feel the energy after the disallowed goal,” Boychuk said. “We just wanted to get back out there and get right into it and try to get that next one to tie it up. Luckily we did.”
And that got the Bruins to the overtime and, eventually, the shootout. That was where Rask (17 saves) and Smith took over.
“My record, I don’t think it’s the greatest in the shootouts, but today I had good patience,” Rask said. “I had good looks on those. A couple of times I got lucky, hit my knob, and one hit the post. But sometimes you’ve got to be lucky to be good.”
Julien (and Houda) would certainly agree.