If there was a word that could describe the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, it would be inconsistency. From game-to-game. Period-to-period. Even shift-to-shift. The consistency simply hasn’t been there for the Lightning 22-23-6. As a result, the Bolts once again failed to make up any ground in the playoff race against the Boston Bruins (26-21-6) at Amalie Arena.
Four different Bruins scored goals, including two during an excruciating span of 1:51 late in the second period, and Boston held on for a 4-3 victory over the Lightning in a game in which they outshot the Bolts 35-21, including a ridiculous margin of 31-13 over the last two periods. Tampa Bay now trails Boston by eight points for third place in the Atlantic Division and Philadelphia by six points for the last wild card spot.
Alex Killorn scored two goals, Brayden Point had one in his first game back after missing 14 with injury, while Victor Hedman had three assists for Tampa Bay. Ben Bishop took the loss for the Bolts in making 31 saves, while Tuukka Rask earned the win for the Bruins by making 18 stops. After the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper lamented his team’s inconsistency.
“Fifty games, I’m not too mystified anymore. It’s becoming a regular occurrence. How many times do I have to say ‘consistency?”, said Cooper after the loss. “Clearly we weren’t the same team in the second and third.”
A physical, chippy opening period saw the Lightning and Bruins play to a scoreless draw, with the Bolts holding an 8-4 lead in shots while each team exchanged hits and plenty of chirps. The festivities were highlighted by Victor Hedman’s tremendous hip check on Frank Vatrano and Killorn and Jimmy Hayes dropping the gloves halfway through the period. Boston’s best chance came about eight minutes in, as Torey Krug crept up to the back post and received a pass from the right wing, only to have his one-timer from in close denied by Bishop. Later in the period, Tampa Bay’s best chance came from Jason Garrison. He got the puck at the point following a faceoff win and fired a shot at Rask, where it managed to squeeze through and trickle towards the net. The puck was literally millimeters away from crossing the goal line, only to see Boston’s Colin Miller clear it out of danger at the last possible moment. The crowd thought it had gone in, but the officials immediately waived it off and play continued.
In the second period, the Bruins shifted momentum back in their favor and kept it that way, as they controlled the flow of play and kept the Lightning mostly bottled up, outshooting the Bolts 12-4 in the middle stanza. Killorn’s goal at the 8:41 mark gave the Lightning some life and put them up 1-0. The play started off with some excellent forechecking by Brayden Point, who was making his return to the lineup after missing 14 games. Eventually the puck ended up back at the right point to Killorn, who took a step into the left circle and wired a seeing eye shot past Rask for a 1-0 lead on his 14th of the season. Hedman and Tyler Johnson got the assists.
Fast forward to the final minutes of the second period when Marchand clearly slew-footed Anton Stralman from behind, and there was no call on the play. Seconds later, Stralman got called for tripping with 2:20 remaining in the second, putting the Bruins on the power play. Thirteen seconds later, Matt Beleskey was whistled for interference, making it 4-on-4. The Bruins controlled the puck throughout the 4-on-4, as Marchand had the puck down low and then dished it back to Adam McQuaid at the point. McQuaid took a shot that was redirected in front through Bishop’s legs and into the net, tying the game 1-1. The Bruins weren’t done yet, as they continued to swarm the Lightning, and with 0.9 seconds remaining on the clock, David Krecji found his way through traffic and from the left circle beat Bishop to put Boston up 2-1 heading into the second intermission.
The Bruins came out flying again in the third period, as Bishop was forced to make a couple of early saves to keep it a one-goal game. With 15:53 remaining in the third, the Bruins had outshot the Bolts 23-4 since the first intermission. However, Killorn struck again, tying the game 2-2 with his 15th goal of the year with 15:14 showing on the clock. A Hedman centering pass bounced off McQuaid’s skate and to Killorn in front of the net, where he beat Rask to knot it up, as Hedman and Johnson got the assists. Tampa Bay would get a power play when Beleskey tripped up Johnson, but that was quickly transformed into a 4-on-4 when Vlad Namestnikov took a hooking penalty. Soon after the action returned to 5-on-5, Miller fed a pass from the point to Zdeno Chara at the top of the right circle, where he overpowered Bishop with a rocket of a one-timer that put Boston up for good by a 3-2 score with 12:09 left.
Despite the fact the Lightning were getting terribly outshot in the second and third periods, they still had some great opportunities that they let fall by the wayside. Johnson found himself breaking in alone on Rask, but he inexplicably dropped the puck back to Hedman, and the pass was broken up. Cooper didn’t mince words after the game when talking about that play or the team’s low shot total.
“When you pass on a breakaway, there’s probably a reason you’re not getting shot totals. That’s a mentality we’ve had too often,” said Cooper in reference to the play.
Nikita Kucherov had an open look at the net off a rebound, but fired the shot high and wide. Kucherov would later collect a nice pass from Namestnikov, only to scuff his shot attempt.
Frank Vatrano would tack on a power play goal for the Bruins with 7:37 left on the clock to make it 4-2, and although Point would score a goal off a deflection with 2:04 remaining, the Lightning would get no closer, missing out on two extremely valuable points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Lightning will return to action on Thursday night, as they’ll host the Ottawa Senators in the second game of their homestand. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Zdeno Chara – The towering Bruins’ defenseman scored the go-ahead goal in the third period off a blistering one-timer that put Boston up 3-2.
2nd Star: Alex Killorn – Scored a pair of goals for the Lightning, his 14th and 15th of the season.
3rd Star: David Krecji – His goal with 0.9 seconds remaining in the second period dramatically shifted momentum back in Boston’s favor by putting them up 2-1.
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