Comfortably secure as the top overall seed in the NHL playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning entered the last game of their historic 2018-2019 regular season with one last accomplishment to achieve.
The 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning regular season came to a close with a Saturday afternoon matinee at the TD Garden in Boston. There were no playoff implications on the line for either team, but the President’s Trophy winning Lightning did not come into the regular season finale with nothing to play for. A win would give Tampa Bay its NHL record 62nd victory of the season, a feat matched only one time in league history (1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings) and the Bolts would not be denied their shot at cementing their names in the record book.
Bruins jump out to an early lead
Neither Tampa Bay nor Boston came out of the gate for their last regular season games showing signs of teams that had their playoff positions already set and had nothing to play for, despite key players on both sides sitting for this finale. Throughout most of the first period, the teams traded shots and scoring chances. The Lightning had a golden opportunity to take a 1-0 lead when Mathieu Joseph fired on a wide open net behind Bruins goaltender Tuuka Rask only for the shot to be just low enough that Rask was able to perfectly time a pad save by extending his right leg.
Boston would open the scoring at the 14:38 mark of the first as Charlie McAvoy and David Krejci broke free on a 2 on 1 against Braydon Coburn. Coburn dropped to the ice for a timely break up of a McAvoy pass but an unfortunate bounce led to the puck going right back to McAvoy who put it past Lightning goalie Eddie Pasquale for the early 1-0 lead. Boston would make it 2-0 at the 19:40 mark when Danick Martel was unable to corral a rebound after a Pasquale save and Danton Heinen took possession of the puck and fired a shot that found the top left corner of the net.
Lightning strikes often in second period momentum swing
It wouldn’t take long into the second period for Tampa Bay to get on the scoreboard. Boston’s Joakim Nordstrom was sent to the penalty box for slashing at 2:48 and the very player he slashed, Bolts’ defenseman Erik Cernak, made the Bruins pay by blasting a wrist shot by Tuuka Rask for his first career power play goal. Later in the period, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos would break away and cash in his second shorthanded goal in as many games with Braydon Coburn serving a minor penalty for high sticking.
Back-to-back shorthanded goals. 45 goals. 98 points.
— p – Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 6, 2019
For Stamkos, that marked his 45th goal of the season, the most for the Captain since his 60 goal campaign in 2011-2012 and third most in a season of his career, but Tampa Bay wasn’t done quite yet. With 3:01 left in the second, Anthony Cirelli received a pass from JT Miller off a rebound and found the back of the net to put the Lightning ahead. The Lightning controlled the second period from start to finish with unrelenting pressure in the Boston zone and an 11-6 shot advantage.
One last statement from Nikita Kucherov
Entering Saturday’s action, expected NHL MVP Nikita Kucherov had a 10 point lead on Edmonton Oiler’s forward Connor McDavid in the race for the Hart Trophy with each player having one game left. But that did not stop Kucherov from delivering an insurance goal for the Lightning early in the third period in what may be his most impressive goal of the season. After receiving a Ryan McDonagh pass at the blue line, Kucherov slipped between Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy and beat Tuuka Rask on a forehand to backhand deke, giving Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead. With 127 points, Kucherov tied Alex Moginly for the most points in a season by a Russian born player in NHL history, a tie that would end up being short lived.
— p – Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 6, 2019
Boston gets one back, but Coburn quickly answers and Johnson seals the deal
With the Lightning holding on to a 4-2 lead facing immense pressure throughout the third period in their own zone, Mat Grzelcyk got the Bruins back to within one with a goal at 14:03 of the period, fielding a David Pastrnak pass in front of Eddie Pasquale and cashing in for Boston. Braydon Coburn would answer 13 seconds later to give the Lightning their 2 goal lead back and with 1:26 on the clock and Tuuka Rask on the bench, Tyler Johnson put his 29th goal of the season into an empty net to solidify a 6-3 Bolts victory. Johnson’s goal was assisted by Nikita Kucherov who now stands alone as the leader for points in a season by a Russian born player with 128.
Goals come early and often for 82 games
With the 3 goal victory over the Boston Bruins, The Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team since the 2005-2006 Ottawa Senators to have a goal differential of 100 or better (103).
3 stars of the game
3. Steven Stamkos – Finishes season with 45 goals and 2 short handed goals in the last 2 games
2. Braydon Coburn – 1 goal, 1 assist – quickly answered Boston’s third period goal to retake a 2 goal lead
1. Nikita Kucherov – 1 goal, 1 assist – 128 points and expected league MVP. Only fitting he gets #1 star in the season finale.
The Lightning await the results of tonight’s matchups between the Blue Jackets and Senators and Hurricanes and Flyers to see who they will play when the first rounds opens Wednesday night at Amalie Arena. The Lightning will face the Columbus Blue Jackets IF the Carolina Hurricanes win OR the Blue Jackets lose in regulation. They will play Carolina IF Columbus wins and Carolina loses in any fashion. Tie in points is broken by ROW and Columbus has the tie breaker. If the 2 teams finish tied in points, the Lightning play Carolina.
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