BOSTON — A three-minute stretch in the first period Wednesday showed Lightning coach Jon Cooper all he needs to know about Tony Cirelli.
When Cirelli’s failed attempt to clear the puck resulted in a Bruins power-play goal, the 20-year-old rookie didn’t sulk or unravel. Instead, he displayed the moxie Cooper has grown accustomed to, netting his first career playoff goal at 16:43 of the first period in Tampa Bay’s 4-1 Game 3 win in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
The goal provided much-needed insurance, pushing the Lightning’s margin to 3-1 to cap an action-packed first period. Cooper was proud of Cirelli for not shying away from the moment.
"I was so pumped that he scored that goal," Cooper said.
Cirelli corralled a pass from Yanni Gourde and fired a shot in goalie Tuukka Rask’s direction with multiple Bruins in the area. The puck ricocheted right back to his stick, so he stabbed at it once more. Back it came again, a split-second later, and his third attempt found its way in with 3:17 left in the first period.
He credited his teammates for setting him up, but he did acknowledge it was a momentous personal milestone.
"It’s definitely a pretty cool feeling to score your first goal in the playoffs," Cirelli said. "It’s pretty special, for sure."
The third-line center, who lives in a hotel down the street from Amalie Arena, played in 18 regular-season games after making his Lightning debut March 1.
He still has a home in Syracuse, where he played with the AHL’s Crunch, but he’s thrilled to be spending most of his time in Tampa and on the road with the Lightning.
Cirelli has seen time in all eight playoff games. He dished out his first career playoff assist against the Devils in Game 5 of the first-round series and won 6 of 8 faceoffs against the Bruins in Game 2 on Monday.
His teammates were impressed right away when he got the callup, and their admiration has only continued to grow.
"His engine’s always moving," fellow center Tyler Johnson said. "He’s not afraid to get into the dirty areas. When you have guys like that, it’s really tough to play against. He came up later in the season, but he’s been lights out for us since he’s been up."
Cirelli wasn’t just effective as a scorer. He also drew multiple penalties, including one late in the third period to help ice the game.
Said Cooper: "He’s been accepted by the team because he does all these little things right."