TAMPA — The Lightning have played numerous important games against the Bruins. The teams often have stood in each other’s way in the postseason, and though they might not be the most natural rivals, Tampa Bay sees their regular-season matchups as benchmark games.
Before the Lightning hosted the Bruins at Amalie Arena on Saturday night, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said he always learns a little bit about his team when its plays Boston.
The Lightning went out and lost 5-2.
“I learned they were better than us tonight,” Cooper said after the game. “We had some chances, but when you go down by four (the Lightning trailed 4-0 after two periods), it’s a tough road back.
“We responded with a couple (goals) and had some looks on the power play, but you can’t spot teams of that quality a lead like that.”
Boston scored its first two goals — both by forward David Pastrnak — in the first 6:10 of the game. Tampa Bay got two goals in the third but couldn’t climb out of its early hole and snapped a nine-game home point streak.
In the teams’ first meeting of the season, in Boston on Dec. 4, the Lightning (23-9-5) escaped with a 3-2 overtime win. On Saturday, the Bruins made sure they didn’t give away two points.
They got their first goal 71 seconds into the game. Pastrnak flicked a shot from just inside the blue line that hit off Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr’s skate and past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy just inside the left post.
“It’s not the start we wanted,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “They get a pretty good carom off a skate that goes in, and it just kind of snowballed from there. I didn’t think we played poorly in the first when we were down, but we just lacked some of the touch around the net. Usually it goes in for us. Obviously not our best effort.”
Bruins forward Brad Marchand scored 24 seconds into the second period for a 3-0 lead. Boston’s forecheck, which gave the Lightning’s defensemen headaches all game, made it 4-0 with 5:06 left in the period when forward Oskar Steen forced a turnover by Lightning defenseman Cal Foote in the Tampa Bay zone and fed forward Anton Blidh, who shot through a screen on Vasilevskiy.
“We’ve probably had (the Bruins’) number more than they’ve had ours the past couple years,” Cooper said. “They’re a proud team, but I expected a little bit more from us tonight. It just wasn’t there.
“Some tough breaks for us, but we weren’t hard enough in our own end. This wasn’t us.”
The Lightning played without stalwart defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who took a puck to the right leg in Thursday’s win against the Flames. That forced them to shuffle their defensive pairings and made some play in unfamiliar positions.
McDonagh was listed as day to day. When Cooper was asked whether there was concern that his injury could be serious, Cooper said, “There’s always concern. Let’s hope it’s not.”
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After cutting their deficit to 4-2 midway though the third period, the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker on a power play, but Marchand scored an empty-net goal with 2:49 left.
The Lightning were 0-for-4 on the power play, including a 47-second 5-on-3 in the second period.
Lightning forward Ondrej Palat scored his 14th goal of the season 24 seconds into the third.
Vasilevskiy, who had allowed four or more goals just twice in his first 24 games this season, has allowed four in two of his past four outings since returning from the COVID-19 protocol.
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