Sign us up for seven games featuring the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning this spring.
The two talented squads met for the final time in the regular season Saturday night at TD Garden. The Bruins had to crawl out of a hole early after relinquishing a pair of shorthanded tallies and nearly pulled off the comeback after spotting the Bolts a 3-0 lead.
David Pastrnak, who scored his league-leading 48th goal of the season to pull the Bruins within one, had a chance to even things up on a breakaway attempt late in regulation. But Andrei Vasilievskiy made the save of the night on Pastrnak and last year’s Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov secured the Lightning’s 5-3 win with an empty-net tally.
“They’re a really good hockey team,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said postgame. “You spot them two goals we battled all night to get back into it. We got back into it…but we never got the equalizer.”
Yet, the end result took a backseat to the old-time hockey on display.
The physical nature of Saturday’s tilt on Causeway Street started with Walpole’s own Chris Wagner and Tampa trade deadline Barclay Goodrow dropping the gloves straight out of the penalty box after serving unsportsmanlike conduct minors in the opening stanza.
That was just the beginning of a night full of penalty minutes — a whopping 94, to be exact. A plethora of line brawls, slashes and fist-a-cuffs followed.
The Bruins didn’t back down one bit. When Brad Marchand encountered a 4-on-1 situation in the corner, his teammates came over to even the odds. They stood up for each other and themselves as exemplified by a rare Patrice Bergeron fight and Zdeno Chara’s response to Anthony Ciarelli’s unnecessary hit prior to Sean Kuraly’s second-period tally.
All of this came four days after the Bruins extended their Atlantic Division lead to nine points in a spirited win in Tampa. The Lightning ended the week with the same result from which they entered, trailing the Bruins by seven points heading into their final 14 games of the regular season.
“We always put a lot of emphasis to have each other’s back and play as a unit and as a team,” Chara said. “And I thought you saw it tonight that everybody responded the right way.”
The Bruins and Lightning solidified the top two spots in the Atlantic over the last two seasons. They met in the second round two years ago and appear destined to meet again a year after the Bolts succumbed to the Blue Jackets in a shocking sweep in Round 1 following their best regular-season record in franchise history.
They’ve established quite the rivalry over the last few seasons. The last two meetings highlighted their contempt for one another. It would only be fitting if they met again come late April.
“I don’t really like to look into the future, but I think that’s kind of what was going on there tonight,” Charlie McAvoy said after notching his fifth goal of the season to put the Bruins on the board at 14:50 of the middle stanza. “I kind of have a feeling we may see these guys again. Obviously we didn’t get the two points, but I think the way that everybody played hard and everyone played physical no matter who it was. Sometimes things don’t go your way, but we’ll take some positives from it.”
The Bruins received plenty of critiques for shying away from physical play at times this season. But they’ve shown they can stick up for one another especially over the last several weeks.
But the postseason is a whole different beast. The Bruins succumbed to a physical Blues squad in seven games last year. The Lightning tried to push them around in the last two tilts, but unlike that Stanley Cup Final last June, the Bruins responded well when push came to shove. The bad blood over the last week may very well carry over if — or when — these two teams meet again with bigger stakes on the line.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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