TAMPA, FL - The Bruins are normally the team making a third-period push. Coming into Thursday night in Tampa, they had only scored first-period goals in six games, taking wins in five of those.
But right off the bat, only 3:50 into the game, and on only four shots, Boston took a 2-0 lead. Just like that.
"Feels a lot better when you’re playing with the lead," said a smiling Nathan Horton, who got the game's first goal just 1:11 in, when he put the loose puck into a near-open net from the left-wing circle on a rebound off the ricocheted shot of Dougie Hamilton at the right point. "That’s what we wanted, we wanted to get out there and have a quick start."
"We got two quick ones, I think that was the key to the game, key to our start for sure."
Not long after Horotn's first of two goals on the night - 2:39 to be exact - Brad Marchand battled two Lightning defenders behind the net (one being 6-foot-6 Victor Hedman) and would not quick on the puck, quickly feeding an open Patrice Bergeron as soon as he got possession, who was moving towards the right faceoff dot for a one-timer.
"We had a really good forecheck there, me, Bergy, and Segs were all in and out, creating havoc," said Marchand, dissecting Bergeron's third goal of the season. "It kind of bounced through to me there and I saw Bergy wide open on the side and he did a great job finishing it off."
"Sometimes for us it’s not the greatest thing," said the winning goaltender, Tuukka Rask, on the team's usually slower first period. "Then we kind of seem to let up a bit. [It's like] we don’t want to blow out the game in the first period, we kind of seem to like to keep it tight, we’re a better team when the games are tight. It was definitely good to get some scoring right off the bat."
"You score four goals and you should be expected to win the game."
The B's would allow two goals by the Lightning to even the score - the second, especially, one that Rask wants back - about midway through both the first and second periods, but the response and compete level was present from the boys in Black & Gold Thursday night.
"We did finish, much, much better tonight," Coach Julien said following the game. "Around the net we were burying them. You look at Horts, both goals, he really shot that thing hard like there was a purpose behind it. We need to do a little bit more of that."
"Overall, like I said, the goal scoring will come, we just got to stay patient with some of those guys. Guys like Horts start scoring, it makes our team that much better."
And score he did - earning two goals on his six shots that led all skaters on the ice - and he could have had more, as he was powering through the Lightning defense all night with his linemates.
One "finisher" on the B's this season - Brad Marchand - got the go-ahead goal only four minutes after Tampa Bay knotted the game, for his team-leading ninth of the season. Tyler Seguin's attempted shot after he drew the Lightning defenders was blocked, but Marchand was right there to quickly get his stick on a good bounce and use his quick release to put it just under Anders Lindback's blocker.
"Especially here, sometimes we struggle in here and it seems like this team, they score in their own rink," said Marchand postgame, on the B's stressing a strong start tonight amidst the Lightning's well-known firepower."They really build a lot of momentum off that and we wanted to make sure we got the first one tonight and try to quiet the crowd down a bit. Luckily, we got two there, but we kind of saved ourselves some trouble when they came back. It’s a great win for us."
"We’ve all seen, he’s got a pretty good shot; he’s got a quick release," said Coach Julien, on the winger having nine goals on just 20 shots this season. "A lot of times, goaltenders don’t even get the chance to set up and it’s off his stick. He’s a natural goal scorer. We’ve seen that year after year."
"His first year he came in and, if you guys remember, he told me he’d score a certain amount of goals the following year, and he did," recalled Coach Julien, of his leading scorer. "As long as he keeps making those predictions and backing them up I’m okay with that."
But it wasn't just the B's offense that was finishing Thursday night - Tuukka Rask received sustained pressure through all three periods, even if the shots weren't pouring in on him, with Boston only allowing five shots on goal in the first. And the calm netminder made huge stops, many from point-blank range.
Marchand's game-winner came right after Rask thwarted a Marty St. Louis breakaway down the right wing, and No. 40 came up big with a save on former Bruin Benoit Pouliot from close range in the third period.
"He’s incredible," said Marchand of his goaltender, who made 24 saves in the win. "He really steps up at the right time. You saw it tonight, after we got that third goal, he really shut the door. They had some really good opportunities, another one there in the third; I think it was on Pouliot, it really could’ve changed the game. We’re lucky to have him."
"Don’t know if you predicted that or not, but they always create chances from nothing it seems like," said Rask, on facing the Lightning's dynamic offense that can score from all areas. "And sometimes they turn the puck over quickly and get those skilled guys up there in the offense and create scoring chances."
"This is a team that can score a lot of goals, they tried jamming some pucks from behind the net, coming out and he was pretty good at moving side to side," said Coach Julien, on Rask's good movement. "He had done a pretty good job of scouting these guys when we talked about how dangerous they are from behind the net and the corner from jamming pucks in. Some of those D’s, [Marc-Andre] Bergeron and [Sami] Salo and those guys, they can shoot the puck a ton. He did a great job, besides that second goal that I’m sure he’d like to have back. He was good."
And for Rask and the B's tonight, it was nice to get the two-goal cushion 2:33 into a third period where they are normally fighting to push back. After a big penalty kill to start the third period, it was Horton - who had been one of the seven Bruins out with "flu-like symptoms" earlier this week - that showed no signs of weakness. No. 18 found open space and redirected a shot-pass from Zdeno Chara at the point to give Boston a 4-2 lead.
"It's been pretty good. It was little difficult because we had a couple guys sick there, we couldn’t really practice on those days off and then flying in here," said Rask, on the start to the B's three-game road swing. "You just want to make sure that you start the Florida trip on the right foot. We talked about that - and we got the win. It’s a good start."
Stretching Four Lines
With his team still getting back to 100 percent following the flu bug and facing humid, warm weather ice conditions in Tampa, Coach Julien tried to roll his four lines throughout all three periods the best he could.
"Considering the situation, it’s really humid in this building tonight, you know when you’re not used to playing in those conditions, our guys after two periods looked a little tired and I really wanted to stretch out those four lines as long as I could," said Coach Julien. "You got guys that are coming off battling the flu and stuff like that, so I think it was important to have everybody going as long as we could and I thought effort-wise, no complaints. As far as analyzing the game, I thought we managed the puck a lot better in the third than we did in the first two periods."
PK Perfect Again
The league's top-ranked penalty kill was perfect again Thursday night, with the Bruins' killing all three penalties, and have now killed 51 of 54 penalties on the season for a 94.4-percent success rate.
With no power-play time of their own against a disciplined Bolts' team, the PK was even more important, killing a Zdeno Chara roughing penalty that stretched from the end of the second period and gave the Lightning 1:35 of power-play time to start the final frame (never got a good look at what caused the draw penalty by Cory Conacher, who looked like he had some words for Chara and Brad Marchand before the whistle blew).
"We have all year on the penalty kill, players go out there, they really get the job done, they really help us," Horton said, of the penalty kill's performance all season and in the final frame. "They give us momentum. All year they’ve done it, I don’t know what our penalty kill is, but it’s got to be close to perfect."
"Yeah, big time," Coach Julien said of the PK's importance to start the third period. "That was what we talked about before coming out in the third that we had to get a big kill here and make sure that we stayed ahead, not to play on our heels and try to extend the lead."
"Our guys responded well to that tonight. Our PK, again, against a pretty good power play, did a great job. I thought until the last power play when they won the draw, we had managed to not let them spent too much time in our own end and so good job by the PK again."
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