TAMPA — Things are going this well for the Bruins:
They didn’t score on three power-play opportunities, Brad Marchand was dealing with a case of food poisoning that left him miserable on the bench, and they still held on for a 2-1 road win over the Lightning, their closest competition in the Eastern Conference.
“Been better,” Marchand said when asked how he was feeling. He said he was done in by some bad salmon at an area restaurant. “Just trying to keep the shifts short. I felt bad for Bergy and Pasta for putting up with me. We got it done.”
Sure did. Marchand, despite skating a season-low 14:36 with linemates Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, scored the opening goal of the game, and it was a milestone marker (more on that below). Jake DeBrusk, pointless in his previous 10 games, scored a pretty breakaway goal.
Those two left wingers — plus strong defensive effort in front of Tuukka Rask (20 saves) and a few lucky bounces — boosted Boston’s edge in the Atlantic Division to 9 points on Tampa Bay, with a return match Saturday night at TD Garden.
The Bruins (42-13-12) thoroughly outplayed the Lightning through two periods, building a 2-0 lead and 31-14 edge in shots. They closed ranks around Rask in the third, allowing seven pucks to reach the net, and just two in the final 13 minutes.
“Good sticks, structure was good, willing to block shots,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of the closeout third. “Probably a little too conservative, but we know how to defend.”
Rask allowed a late-second-period putback by Mitchell Stevens and nothing more. No save was better than his patient denial of an Anthony Cirelli breakaway in the opening minutes of the third. A stretch pass snuck through Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara, but Rask’s stick and pads were quicker than Cirelli’s five-hole snapper.
The Lightning (41-20-5) left cursing their missed chances. Cedric Paquette flared a one-timer high over the net, and Erik Cernak clanked one off the iron before the 10-minute mark of the third. Tyler Johnson couldn’t cash a loose puck from the slot minutes later. The Lightning were off-net with seven attempts in the final frame, but the Bruins blocked seven shots in the third — and 20 on the night.
“It was awesome,” Rask said of the defense. “Both ends of the ice, being above the puck at all times. We got caught in our end a couple times, but we managed to sort it out and defend the middle.”
Boston also successfully challenged Yanni Gourde’s goal 5:24 into the second period, a seeing-eye shot through a screen from the top of the circle. Officials ruled Johnson a hair offside, leaving the game a 1-0 Bruins lead. Take that, replay gods.
With Lightning captain Steven Stamkos out 6-8 weeks after Monday surgery to repair a core muscle, the Bruins were worried they would be down a superstar of their own. Marchand missed the morning skate, but he arrived at the rink around 5:30 p.m. and “took a little medicine or an IV,” Cassidy said, then told the staff he was ready to go.
Late in the first period, Marchand and Torey Krug got loose, got Tampa’s man-to-man defense scrambling, and got “the exact play we wanted,” Krug said. “We knew they had a tired line out there.”
Krug hit Marchand with a cross-ice, doorstep pass for a skate deflection. It was Marchand’s 28th goal of the season, and the 290th of his career. He passed Ken Hodge for seventh in franchise history. Next up: Cam Neely (344).
“That’s the first time I was sick I did anything decent in a game,” Marchand said. “Normally you’re a liability. It was just great that we won. This was obviously a big game.”
DeBrusk, without a point in his previous 10 games, made it 2-0 on a spectacular individual effort. Turning on the afterburners to beat Zach Bogosian to a loose puck in the neutral zone, he skated through a trip (and delayed penalty) from the diving Bogosian and chipped it ahead, skated onto it, used some stick sorcery to freeze Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves), and beat the netminder blocker-high to make it 2-0 at 10:06 of the second.
“Another night, who knows?” Cassidy said. “Maybe he goes down on that and doesn’t get up. We’ve seen it with Jake. He gets frustrated.
“At his age, scoring matters maybe more than some other guys. I’m glad he got it playing the right way. It wasn’t a freebie. He earned it by playing hard.”
It was intense, with both teams taking shots after the whistle, a playoff-ready crowd at Amalie Arena, and a fight between Joakim Nordstrom and Gourde. The rematch Saturday in Boston, after the Bruins visit the Panthers on Thursday and the Lightning host the Canadiens, should be another good show.
“It’s definitely an important game,” Krug said. “Both teams knew it was going to be a good matchup, a fun one, a close game. For us to go up 9 points before Saturday’s game, when we play them again, it was an important 2 points to collect.”