The lovable Tevye, a man who knew all the strings to pull from atop his legendary perch as Fiddler on the Roof, would have appreciated the approach the Lightning brought to Saturday’s matinee performance at the Garden.
Employing the age-old tactic of trying to punch the home team in the nose at the outset, the Bolts took all of nine seconds to raise havoc on Causeway Ice and try both to intimidate their gracious hosts and shake themselves from a three-game losing streak lethargy.
In the end, Tradition didn’t deliver the the goods. The Bruins punched right back, with fists and with goal scoring, in a 2-1 victory that brought the league-best Black and Gold their sixth consecutive victory and clinched the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
With 56 wins, one off the club record, they remain three weeks away from starting the playoffs. Game No. 72 in the old West End served as a reminder how the temperature will turn higher, inside and outside the arena, when the march to the Stanley Cup begins.
“That’ll get ya excited for the playoffs, huh?” said a smiling coach Jim Montgomery after watching Patrice Bergeron and Garnet ‘Ace’ Hathaway pace the win with their goals.
The Bruins, noted Montgomery, “had an inkling that Tampa Bay was going to want to play a very energetic and emotional game . . . didn’t know it was going to happen that quick.”
Meanwhile, other than a shorthanded strike by his Swedish pal Victor Hedman, Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark once again was nearly as pitch-perfect as Tevye’s bow and strings. He turned back 26 shots, improved his league-best mark to 36-5-1, and otherwise outperformed counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy on an afternoon when Hathaway popped home the game-winner with his tiebreaker at the 17:32 mark of the second period.
The rock-hard Hathaway, Montgomery’s fourth-line right winger, was the center of attention even prior to puck drop. As he lined up for the opening faceoff, he began to trade shoves and snarls with the broad-shoulder Pat Maroon. With only nine ticks off the clock, Hathaway and Maroon tangled in a protracted dirty dance — Tevye, some foot stompin’ music, please — and flurry of heavy shots along the boards near the Tampa bench.
We know this about the Garden: As true as sunrise and sunset, fill it with 17,850 Bruins fans and they’ll go crazy when the fists fly. The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Maroon landed some heavy shots on the 6-3, 210 Hathaway, but the kid from Kennebunkport more than held his own with Maroon, whose nicked, bloody fingers are adorned with three Stanley Cup rings.
Hathaway, acquired with fellow Cap Dmitry Orlov at the trade deadline, is that rare blend of spunk and skill that every team can use, and one the Bruins needed ever since they allowed Noel Acciari to leave town after their run to the ‘19 Cup Final.
Hathaway, though, is bigger than Acciari, in stature and strength and skill and talent. The son of a lobsterman, he can be the tide that lifts all ships come playoff time.
“There’s a few I can think of,” said Bergeron, asked post-game if Hathaway reminded him of any ex-teammates. “Obviously, Thorty [Shawn Thornton] was one of those guys that came in and set the identity and was hard to play. That whole line, Gregory Campbell — there’s a few guys throughout the years.
“He brings that element. A guy, you know, that’s hard to play against, plays the right way, is physical, and he has the knack of finding areas around the net and has a scoring touch. It’s been great to see and really a nice addition for us.”
Hathaway’s goal, his third since being acquired, snapped the 1-1 tie the two clubs brought out of the first period. Grinding his way low in the slot after slipping behind the Bolts defensemen, Hathaway used a quick stick to flick the puck after Vasilevskiy initially turned away a long-range wrister by Matt Grzelcyk. The TB tender let the puck pop up and Hathaway batted it home.
Hathaway credited Jakub Lauko and Tomas Nosek’s forechecking, Grzelcyk’s shot and, virtually in passing, his nifty finish.
“Our identity’s going to the net, and rebounds happen,” he added. “It just worked out.”
The Bolts were lucky not to be out of it after giving the Bruins five cracks on the power play in the first period. The Bruins struck only once on the advantage, with Beregeron cashing in on linemate Brad Marchand’s shot/pass from low in the left circle. The ricochet shot appeared to fool Vasilevskiy, or he simply lost track of what initially looked like a low-percentage shot.
The Bolts pulled even while the Bruins were working with one of those first-period advantages. Hedman fired a long-range shot off left wing, just inside the offensive blue line, and the puck ramped by Ullmark off the stick of Charlie McAvoy.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.