The Bruins were good, but needed to be great, against the Lightning
TAMPA — Fifty minutes of sound, strong hockey will beat some teams. The Lightning are not one of them.
On a night when the Bruins mostly handled Tampa Bay’s big names, lesser-known Mathieu Joseph and Anthony Cirelli broke a tie with goals in the first 4:03 of the third period, giving the powerful Lightning a 3-2 win at Amalie Arena on Thursday.
David Krejci’s six-on-five goal, a cannon from the point with 1:43 left and Tuukka Rask on the bench, cut the deficit to one. But that’s how it ended, even though Brad Marchand had a rebound try off the end boards with seconds left, forcing Louis Domingue (33 saves) to make a final stop as the horn sounded.
The Bruins (14-10-4), losers of three straight for the first time since the Lightning knocked them out of last year’s second round, 4-1, pushed hard to keep pace with the Bolts, who entered the night as the league’s winningest club (43 points, 21-7-1).
“It was an even game,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
Boston’s best forwards, Marchand and David Pastrnak, were their dangerous selves (15 attempts, 10 on net). Krejci’s goal was a rocket through traffic. Fill-in No. 1 center Colby Cave had a solid night, creating a goal with a turnover. Charlie McAvoy returned to the lineup after a seven-week absence, skating 21:02.
“We never said die and nobody quit,” McAvoy said. “We can take away from that.”
But one aspect of Thursday the Bruins will take home for Saturday’s game against another Atlantic Division heavyweight, Toronto, is all the chances they had in the second period. The Bruins weren’t exactly tentative, but passed up too many good opportunities to take it to the net, especially in a 1-1 game.
In the final 13 minutes of the middle frame, they attempted 17 shots and put nine on goal (Tampa in that time: two attempts, one shot on net). But the Bruins went nearly eight minutes without landing one, trying to create when chaos and crash-and-bang may have better served them.
“I think guys want to go to the net,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s not easy against [Ryan] McDonagh and [Victor] Hedman. This is a good defensive corps. They don’t let you inside easily.”
Cassidy was pleased that youngsters such as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Donato established possession against that stout D, seeing building blocks.
Boston, which outshot Tampa Bay, 4-1, to open the game, got to the paint for an early lead.
Cave, making a Patrice Bergeron-like read, intercepted a clearing attempt by defenseman McDonagh, stepped up, and fired. Pastrnak kicked a Domingue rebound to his stick and slammed it home at 2:04 of the first.
It was the 20th of the season for Pastrnak, putting him halfway to 40 on Dec. 6. It was also Boston’s first five-on-five goal in five periods.
Tampa controlled the rest of the period. In a six-minute run beginning with Brayden Point’s wrister at 10:25, the Bolts put 19 consecutive shot attempts toward Rask, 10 of them on net.
One of them eluded the Bruins keeper, who made 27 saves on 30 shots. Point, Tampa’s top scorer, deposited a no-look pass from Nikita Kucherov after the Bruins’ top line won a draw and couldn’t clear the zone. It was his 21st of the season, tying him with Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for tops in the NHL.
Despite that dizzying ice tilt, a turnover nearly gave Boston a 2-1 lead after 20.
With 1:53 left in the first, Domingue stoned Pastrnak on a partial break. He stretched out as Pastrnak deked his way in, finally poking away the puck with his toe when Pastrnak couldn’t elevate on the backhand.
“Kind of whiffed on it,” Pastrnak said. “He made a good save, just had a pad there. Should be able to get it over the pad.
“We played good for the first two periods. The third, you can’t give up two goals in a 1-1 hockey game in the last 20 minutes.”
The second period was a highlight reel for goalies. Domingue made 12 saves. Rask made six, gloving a Kucherov try from the slot, and stretching out to blocker a Steven Stamkos chance on the rush.
But the Bruins netminder couldn’t lift his mates when they sagged early in the third.
Joseph broke the tie at 2:40. He took a slick entry feed from Alex Killorn, who slid it under Torey Krug, and tucked it five-hole after a shifty move to cause Rask to open his pads.
After Domingue whipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game call, Cirelli collected a loose puck at his own blue line and skated in shorthanded, stickhandling around Rask’s pad.
“I thought we defended well,” Rask said. “In the third, couple breakdowns, and I would like to make one or two of those saves. The gap was too big after that.”
The Bruins pushed, and had a flurry of chances at the end, but it wasn’t enough to beat a team of the Bolts’ caliber.
“You walk out of here, you’re not happy, but we’re going to look at it and see there’s something to build off,” Cassidy said. “And that’s part of it for us right now.”