BRUINS 3, LIGHTNING 2
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Out of the gate like prized thoroughbreds, home like wheezing $500 claimers, the Bruins Wednesday night rolled up a 3-0 lead over the sharpshooting Tampa Bay Lightning and held on to coax and cajole a 3-2 win across the finish line at TD Garden.
Charlie McAvoy, Riley Nash, and Torey Krug scored in the opening 26 minutes, and Brad Marchand, just back from a six-week layoff, chipped in with two assists, as the Bruins won for the fifth time in six games despite a strong second-half surge by the talent-laden Bolts.
Tuukka Rask made 19 saves to win for the first time in more than three weeks and improve to 4-8-2.
Andrej Sustr finally put the Lightning on the board halfway through the second, and then Steven Stamkos rifled home a power-play goal — as if drawn up by Picasso — to trim Boston’s lead to 3-2 win 17:50 still to play in regulation.
“The push is going to come sooner or later,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, crediting the Lightning for their stick-to-itiveness. “They got a break with a goal [by Sustr] that kind of had eyes there. Gave them some juice. The power play gave them juice. I think we were really good discipline-wise, we know they are deadly on the power play. Once they get the second one, you sort of regain your focus.”
The best of the focus came with 2:53 to go when Rask, rarely able to work with a three-goal lead, snuffed out a Dan Girardi shot from the right circle. It changed direction on the way in and Rask, too often beaten on such quirky attempts this season, slid into the puck to make the save.
Late in the second period, Rask made another key stop when the ever-dangerous Nikita Kucherov made a one-time sweep as the trailer on a three-on-two break. Again, chances that have gone in this year against the Finnish franchise stopper.
“Those are the saves that people expect you to make,” Rask said. “You talk about after the game, you know, ‘He should have saved that.’ Now you talk it was a timely save. Something you want to do, you try to do, and hopefully more often than not you actually save those.”
Overall, it was a marked improvement over the flat start Sunday vs. the Oilers, which had the Bruins mounting few viable offensive chances. Follow-up chances? Nonexistent. Only 72 hours later, they ran up 19 shots in the first period and popped two of them by Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
McAvoy connected for the first one, snapping off a 30-footer from above the right circle after Marchand hit him tape-to-tape with a cross-slot feed. The on-ice officiating crew initially waved off the goal, claiming Marchand had interfered with the 6-foot-3-inch Vasilevskiy. But under scrutiny of the rinkside technology, the camera views showed there was no interference. McAvoy had goal No. 3 of the season and the Bruins had the lead. He finished with a game-high 28:11 of time on ice.
The Bolts spent the better part of the first 20 minutes barely able to crack the offensive zone — nearly the mirror image of the Bruins’ performance on Sunday. They have two of the most potent shooters in the game, forwards Stamkos and Kucherov, and they were barely noticeable in the first period.
“You know they’re going to come with a push,” said Rask, “and they did.”
Marchand again helped on the next goal, knocking the puck ahead in the neutral zone for a streaking Danton Heinen to carry over the left side. Once across the line, Heinen fired a no-look horizontal pass to a breaking Nash and the ex-Cornell standout snapped it to the top right corner for his second of the season.
“I haven’t shot the puck in the net for a while,” said Nash. “So, it felt pretty good.”
Play turned chippy early in the second when Cedric Paquette ran Krug into the rear boards, a dangerous smack that dropped Krug after his face banged into the glass. Frank Vatrano retaliated, going after Paquette, in a token attempt at old-time hockey justice.
A little more than three minutes later, the sides skating four apiece, Krug exacted his own justice, driving in a blistering one-timer off a Ryan Spooner feed. The old barn on Causeway was rocking, the lead up to 3-0 on Krug’s fourth goal of the season.
But the Bolts finally began to chisel their way back into the game about halfway through the second when the towering Sustr snapped off a 55-footer that bled its way through Rask. Tampa had numbers at the net, including Ryan Callahan and Paquette, taking away any chance Rask had at seeing the puck. The lead was down to 3-1 with 29:07 to go — dangerous minutes when playing the Bolts.
The Lightning lit the light again at 16:05 on Tyler Johnson’s charge to the net. But video review showed the puck never went in the net after initially hitting the left post and ricocheting out the right side.
“Nice to get that break, post and out,” said Rask. “I’ve had my share of post, hit my skate, and go in this year.”
Johnson was back again for another great attempt at 18:33, snuffed out by Rask. And with 31.7 seconds left in the period, Rask turned back the one-time sweep off a three-on-two break, stifling Kucherov.
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