TAMPA — The Lightning went into this week looking at it as a test for themselves. Three playoff-caliber teams were on the schedule at Amalie Arena, and Tampa Bay was looking to measure itself against them.
With a fluky goal from defenseman Victor Hedman in the final seven minutes, the Lightning answered the toughest question they faced with a 3-2 win Thursday over the Bruins.
“They’ve had an unbelievable regular season so far. So for us, we knew we had to bring our A-game (Thursday), and other than that we did not look past this game,” Hedman said.
“We got one more (game) before the (All-Star) break, so we want to take care of home ice. We’ve got two out of three so far, and we’re looking forward to finishing it off on Saturday (against the Kings).”
The Lightning (31-15-1) extended their home-ice winning streak to 11 games. They also snapped Boston’s seven-game road winning streak.
Hedman scored his first goal in five games on a shot from the left side boards as Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo bowled over his goaltender for the game-winner with 6:41 to play.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Hedman said. “I saw (goaltender) Linus (Ullmark) went down, but I didn’t know if it was our guys or their guys (who knocked him over). I just took a chance to shoot it on the net.”
It paid off in a big win for the Lightning, even though it moved them to only within 17 points of the Bruins, who lead the NHL in points with 80.
“Obviously, it was kind of a statement game,” Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli said. “Obviously with the amount of points that they are up on the entire league, we knew it was gonna be a tough matchup (Thursday), and we wanted to come out here and win the game.
“And that’s what we did.”
Maybe the way the Lightning did it was as big of a statement as the two points they earned.
“These are all playoff-caliber teams,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And they’re big. They’re heavy, skilled. So yeah, it’s a test. And so far we’re doing pretty darn well on the test.
“And I don’t want to say just because we’ve won both games, but for the most part, like how we played. It hasn’t been a fire drill or anything like that. We’ve played some pretty sound, structured hockey and we’re getting contributions from all four lines and in 60 (minutes).
“And the goalie is playing well, and that’s what happens. So we’ve been rewarded for it.”
Nikita Kucherov posted his 21st multi-point game of the season, tied for the second-most in the NHL, and his ninth three-point game.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
He scored his 20th goal just 58 seconds into the third period and had two assists on the night. Two seconds after Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy was helped off the ice after colliding into the boards at full speed, Kucherov took a direct pass from Steven Stamkos off the faceoff and fired the puck into the far side of the net behind Ullmark to give the Bolts a brief 2-1 lead.
It was Kucherov’s second point of the night. He picked up his third on Hedman’s game-winner.
In the opening period, with the Bruins’ penalty killers rushing out to try and smother Kucherov in the right circle, they left Brandon Hagel alone in front of the goal. Kucherov drew them out and snapped the puck to Hagel, who steadied the puck at the top of the crease and snapped it in for his 19th goal of the season and sixth on the power play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves. The Lightning goalie got beat when they were caught in their own zone for an extended stretch, with Bruins forward Brad Marchand coming off the bench and tying it at 1 with 3:02 to play in the second. Marchand drew Hedman out and fired a wrist shot that went under the leg of Stamkos, and beat Vasilevskiy on the glove side.
Pavel Zacha answered Kucherov’s goal in the third by scoring off a David Krejci feed at 2:24, a prelude to Hedman’s winner.
“To come home here before this break and to put two of these (wins) together, it’s a good sign for what direction we’re headed in,” Cooper said.
“Now we just can’t sit here and say, ‘Well, we beat the Bruins,’ and forget about L.A. coming in. We want to get one more before a quick break and then continue to build on what we’ve done here in the last week.”
Contact Kristie Ackert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.
Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.