Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Bruins 3, Lightning 0: Bruins let Bolts know they're for real

Ty Anderson
March 17, 2018 - 10:41 pm

If the Bruins got their doors blown off by the hometown Lightning on Saturday night, would anyone have batted an eye?

The Bruins limped into Tampa Bay down their top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, and without Jake DeBrusk. Oh, and do-it-all center and Hart Trophy contender Patrice Bergeron is still on the shelf.

On top of being the hosting club with the benefit of last change against an obviously wounded Boston squad, the Lightning came into play as the more rested team, having not played since Tuesday’s beatdown at the hands of the Sens, whereas the Bruins were playing their fifth game in the last eight days (and fourth away from the Garden).

But head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club does not dabble in the excuse-making game.

So the Bruins instead decided to put forth what may have been their best 60-minute effort of the season, and were rightfully rewarded with a 3-0 final over the Lightning. And in what can only be described as a late-season dream, the Bruins did this with what seemed like contributions from everybody whose skates touched Amalie Arena ice.

David Pastrnak scored 3:07 into the first period, and David Backes added a power-play goal on the Black and Gold’s first chance on the man advantage.

But beyond their results in an opening frame that saw them more than double T.B. in shots (12-to-5), it was a period that saw the Bruins win nearly every puck battle, routinely turn nothing into something, and make a normally quick-moving Lightning group look stuck in the mud. It frustrated the Lightning into dumb penalties (see: Steven Stamkos' interference penalty against Tim Schaller and the Lightning freaking out whenever a Boston skater even when a little bit near the crease).

With every reason to be the besieged, the Bruins instead dictated the pace of play.

Even when the Bruins lost yet another player to injury -- this time when a rogue skate lacerated David Backes’ knee and forced him out of play after requiring ‘several stitches’ -- their approach did not change. If anything, it made them up their intensity.

That paved the way to a second-period power-play goal from Riley Nash, and from there the Bruins trusted their defense to continue to deny Tampa’s attempts.

Torey Krug, quietly on pace for what would be the first 60-point season by a Boston defenseman since Ray Bourque in 1995-96, had an assist on all three Boston goals. Adam McQuaid, often relegated to suit-wearing and popcorn-snacking as a healthy scratch, came through with what was perhaps his best game of the season. Kevan Miller made Nikita Kucherov completely disappear at five-on-five, and third-pairing standout Matt Grzelcyk continued to make the simple plays that often go unnoticed.

Rask, who made 23 saves for his third shutout of the season (and the first shutout against the Lightning by any team this season), called it the B’s ‘best defensive game in a while’ and noted his team’s ability to deny the Lightning chances from the slot.

And it’s Rask performance that should stand out as the big takeaway.

Despite the obvious results that have come for No. 40, it’s beyond fair to say that Rask has not been the goaltender the Bruins need him to be come playoff time. There’s been far too many ‘just enough’ victories or nights where the 31-year-old has been bailed out by late-game heroics in the offensive zone. But tonight, and with the Bruins still decimated by injuries (especially when it came to those that have shouldered massive d-zone responsibilities this season), Rask looked beyond prepared for the Bolts.

There was never a point where Rask seemed to be swimming or overmatched against the Lightning’s top shooters or their vaunted power play. He also seemed to have a handle on every lethal-as-hell Steven Stamkos one-timer fired on net.

And now here we are, with the Bruins looking like a legitimate threat to the Lightning in the Atlantic playoff bracket, even without three of their five-most important players.

Now just one win out of first place in the division, the Bruins have essentially stepped up to the plate and punched their biggest threat in the face with dominant wins in both meetings this year. And set for another two head-to-head meetings within the next two-plus weeks, the Bruins have let the Bolts know that they’re not going away.

They’ve instead let what has been a wire-to-wire juggernaut know that they have home ice in their sights, no matter who is added or subtracted from their lineup. 

After all, that's what great teams do. And after a night like this, the Bruins confirmed that they're exactly that. 

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