Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins battle in playoff-like atmosphere on Tuesday night in front of another sell-out crowd of 19,092.
There are few things more exciting than playoff hockey. And with the Bruins and Lightning battling for first place in the Atlantic division, the excitement turned to tension on the ice Tuesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla..
The Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t start until April 11 — one day later than originally scheduled thanks to a rescheduled game (snow storm) between Boston and the Florida Panthers on April 8 — but the Bruins and Lightning provided a playoff-like atmosphere on Tuesday as Tampa Bay moved into a first-place tie with Boston by securing a 4-0 victory.
After establishing franchise records in several categories this year, the Lightning have struggled to keep pace over the last two weeks. Tampa Bay has already set franchise records in wins (53), road wins (25), road points (52), goals (281), and road goals (143). Plus, after tonight’s win, their 110 points are a new franchise-best. Entering Tuesday night, the team had won just once — March 30 against the New York Rangers — in their last five opportunities.
Sure, with only two games remaining before the Stanley Cup Playoffs there’s an extra level of excitement when the Lightning take the ice. But after losing the first three games against the Bruins this season, Tuesday night’s shutout victory couldn’t have come at a better time for this team. After the game, several Lightning players acknowledged how important it was to get the win against Boston.
“Any two points is big,” Ryan Callahan said after the game. “That was our approach coming in — that we had to get this win to stay alive for the division.”
“Always, it feels good to beat ’em,” Victor Hedman said after scoring his 16th goal of the season. “We wanna finish in first place and we happen to have them with three games left so we wanna go out there and obviously win the game. … Obviously, playing a team that’s beat us three-out-of four times, we wanted to have a big game.”
Given the recent struggles of the team, and the dominant performance against Boston, this question was posed in the locker room:
Is this the team’s best performance this season?
“It’s right up there obviously,” Callahan said despite not truly remembering every game. “That’s definitely up there, that’s a full 60 [minute] effort and the penalty kill was huge for us. That’s an area that we’ve really been working on of late.”
Hedman also mentioned that the biggest difference between tonight and the previous meetings between these two teams was their ability to stay out of their defensive zone. The fact that they didn’t spend any “unnecessary time in [their] own end” was a big reason why the Lightning were able to shut down the Bruins line of center Patrice Bergeron, and forwards Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
The Bruins came out the aggressor during the early stages of the first period having racked up four shots in the first few minutes. In fact, Boston held a 4-1 advantage in shots on goal early in the game. With the sold-out crowd of 19,092 alternating chants from “Let’s go Lightning” to “Let’s go Bruins”, the home team fought back to finish the period with a 17-8 advantage in shots. Each team successful fought-off first period power-play chances from their opponent. The Lightning starting the second period on the man-advantage but were unable to record a shot before Pastrnak rejoined his teammates after serving time for a two-minute hooking penalty.
Brayden Point, having picked up a goal (31) on Tuesday night, has scored goals (4 total) in each of Tampa Bay’s last three victories. Offensive pressure led to Point’s marker and it continued to propel the Lightning through the second frame as Hedman and Chris Kunitz (13) added goals to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 second-period lead.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (84 wins) passed Nikolai Khabibulin for second place on the Bolts’ all-time wins list. With his eighth shutout this year, he also eclipsed Khabibulin’s record of seven in a single season.
Anton Stralman was in the starting lineup against Boston — his 700th career game in the NHL. He has four goals and 14 assists this year — his 11th season in the league, fourth with the Lightning.
Captain Steven Stamkos did not play against Boston and the timing of his return from a lower-body injury is still unknown. He missed all but one of the Lightning’s playoff games during the 2016 playoffs.
For the second consecutive game, Tampa Bay failed to record a power-play goal. The Lightning had scored on the man-advantage in five-straight games until the streak was snapped on Sunday night against the Nashville Predators.
Having been acquired at the trade deadline this year, forward J.T. Miller has scored 10 goals since joining the team on Feb 26. In the 16 games he’s played for Tampa Bay, the former-New York Rangers center leads all Lightning skaters in goals and his 17 points is also tops on the team.
The Lightning have two games remaining in the regular season. On Friday night the team hosts the Buffalo Sabres before finishing the season the next day in Carolina. The Bruins close out the season with two games against the Panthers and one against the Ottawa Senators. The race for the Atlantic Division title could come down to the final game of the regular season.
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