If this is a playoff preview, sign me up.
A lot of the story, for some, is going to be how the Lightning still haven't been able to solve the Bruins, especially at TD Garden. Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story of tonight at all; while the Bruins were the team that took home the two points (putting them eight up on Florida, who is currently tied 2-2 with the Winnipeg Jets), they were outplayed for long stretches of this one.
That didn't really include the first period, however, as the Bruins, running the same line-up that's brought them recent success, came out stronger than the Lightning in the first. Once again, the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand tandem set the tone with a good first shift. Indeed, Tampa's inability to solve the Boston forecheck early led to Loui Eriksson drawing a holding call on Mark Barberio less than two minutes in. The Bruins Power Play buzzed, especially the first unit, but couldn't convert. Still, it was awhile before Tampa seemed to acclimate to the type of pressure the B's were applying.
By then, Boston had already gained the lead. A Torey Krug pass to Milan Lucic and a perfect redirect by Looch sprung Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak on a 2-on-1. Spooner waited out Barberio's attempts to block his passing lane, and threw the puck across to Pastrnak. Pastrnak turned his skate as the puck arrived, and deflected in his 9th goal of the season at 7:57 of the first. Weirdly enough, I'm assured by half the press box that that exact motion would've been considered a kick-in last season. Apparently this year, not-so-much. 1-0 by the slimmest of margins, and a 7-game point streak for Spooner (that ties the longest rookie point streak in 2014-15, FYI).
Tampa finally started to find their game after they were award a Power Play when Ben Bishop was tripped by an invisible cat, and Loui Eriksson, allegedly the owner of the cat, was sent to the box. Tuukka Rask, who was in as fine a form as you'll see a goalie in, denied Stamkos once with a right pad stop, and the Tampa Bay star couldn't find the angle on the rebound.
It stayed 1-0, though admittedly less one-sided, until Stamkos's revenge at 15:29. In one of those moves that shows how special a player he is, Stamkos managed to pickpocket Zdeno Chara--don't listen to the fb commenters, this really basically never happens--in the Bruins zone, dangle out to the right to separate from the rest of the crowd, and fire a laser past Rask. The wrist shot broke the sound barrier, and it was 1-1. Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille, in case you somehow missed it, both took pucks to the face in the first five minutes, to add injury to the insult of still being tied after playing a strong first period.
While the fourth liners would return, the story of the second period was that the Lightning truly hit their stride and it was one of those 20-minute spans that makes you wonder how well-equipped the Bruins are to deal with teams that have both speed and depth (throughout the roster, not just on offense) in the playoffs. For this time, however, the answer was "Tuukka Rask." The second period was a slaughter in everything but the actual score, as Rask saved all 16 SOG that Tampa poured on. The Tyler Johnson lined even turned in a shift that hemmed in Patrice Bergeron and company, and the Spooner line was eaten up by Johnathan Drouin--playing on the third line with Valterri Filppula--and Victor Hedman in another late shift.
Still, Rask was equal to the task, including denying Stamkos on a snapper from the slot towards the end of the period. For the Bruins, there were few positives, as their second period blues included Dennis Seidenberg taking a dangerous crosscheck from Jason Garrison--Seidenberg was cut on the left side of his head by the awkward impact on the boards--and doing nothing really of note on the ensuing advantage. Reilly Smith may have contributed in other ways tonight, but I'm beyond sure that's fair to say he was flipping awful in manning the point. For what it's worth, if I'm the DoPS head, Garrison gets a game or two from the league for a reckless hit. Fortunately for him, I'm not a the DoPS head.
After a final save by Tuukka on a Johnson shot that hit the outside of the bar after Tuukka's blocker, we were set up for an exciting last 20--actually 25+--minutes.
Reversing the luck that the Bruins have often had turned on them this season, Patrice Bergeron promptly un-tied the game only 2:20 into the third frame, blasting a Dennis Seidenberg feed by Bishop from the top of the right circle. Bergeron's shot was a missile, but Bishop was in position to save it and somehow just whiffed. It was Bergeron's 19th of the season, Seidenberg's 9th Assist, and it seemed like the complexion of this one might change.
Unfortunately, it did not. The Bruins and Claude Julien immediately went into a defensive shell, as if that was ever going to hold a lead for 17+ minutes, and it wasn't six minutes before Vladislav Namestnimov found the equalizer. I was just remarking how Rask had been spectacular in giving up almost no rebounds, when a shot from Barberio was too good for Rask to possibly handle, and Namestnimov whipped another laser wrister behind the Boston netminder. Andrej Sustr grabbed a secondary assist on the play.
The Bruins would get one more Power Play chance after Campbell and his semi-repaired face drew a penalty on Sustr. Again, the first unit did everything but score. Again, the second unit looked like they might be better served playing tiddlywinks on the bench. The rest of the third period was mostly the Lightning knocking on the door, and Rask leaning against the door and refusing to even let them budge it. The Bruins went from holding a 7-1 SOG advantage early to being down in that category 34-23 with 5:06 left in the game. Score effects? Maybe a little, but there was about 35 minutes in this game where the B's were outshot 33-16.
Late flurries by both teams, including an excruciating-to-watch sequence where Torey Krug had Bishop down on the ice but couldn't get a good angle, and a following shift where Bishop--whose stat line was good but definitely had his issues handling the puck--couldn't find the puck in the crease, we went to overtime.
Overtime. Man, I'll tel you, I can't overstate how excited I am for when the games start to just...keep...going. I guess it would be silly to talk P-L-A-Y-O-F-F-S too early, but nothing had me as excited for them as this OT. It was one of the most entertaining five minutes spans of Hockey that I've had the pleasure of watching.
First, Alex Killorn drew a penalty on Chris Kelly. Boo. Except Killorn was judged to have tried a little too hard to draw a call (I was really confused how the ref came to this conclusion, but I'm also not a referee). The cool thing about this was that we got 3-on-3. 3-on-3, in this case was awesome. A frantic sequence ended with David Pastrnak making an amazing coast-to-coast rush where he made a nice move to find daylight behind Hedman, but his backhand shot had too much mustard on it. Hedman and the Lightning came right back down, the Tampa DMan showing his skating skill to burn Matt Bartkowski. The bad part was Bartkowski was burned, as we've seen in the past against skilled teams. To Bartkowski's credit, though, he realized that grabbing Hedman as he went by was preferable to letting him score, and the Lightning went to the Power Play with 2:49 left in OT.
The Lightning Power Play that ensued was, no doubt, their best chance to get out of TD Garden with a somewhat deserved win, but Stamkos elected to pass on what was probably his best chance to shoot. Then, with 13 seconds left in the Power Play, he broke his stick on a shot. Stamkos, intending to pitch his broken stick away--it's a penalty to play a puck with a broken stick--mistakenly toss it over the boards. Whoops, also a penalty. He was given a 10-minute misconduct, and with no triggerman, this essentially killed off the remaining man advantage.
OT, as with the third, ended after a brief Bruins surge that brought the SOG to 37-30 Tampa. Then the stupid SO happened, and, according to Julien, "it still sucks," but this time the Bruins won on goals from Bergeron and Marchand (who found the five-hole for the clincher). Stamkos was unable to shoot because of his misconduct. Excuse me if I can't feel badly about that, since I feel like the last SO the Bruins won was before I learned to walk.
While it's impossible for me to say that this wasn't a case of Rask saving the Bruins and the B's grabbing a somewhat undeserved second point, they played well enough that it would also be going too far to say that the Lightning were robbed. Whatever your own conclusion, the SO win kept the Bruins six points ahead of Florida, and drew them within two of Washington. After all this team has had to contend with this year, some of it self-manufactured trouble, the Bruins are probably pretty content with a "deserve ain't got nothing to do with it" win*.
*- we also gave the Lightning a point to help them pass Montreal, because screw the Habs.