TAMPA — Three years later, you are jaded. Or maybe content is the better word.
You have grown so accustomed to the Lightning gradually steering toward a postseason crescendo that you have learned not to overreact in December, panic in January or turn giddy in February.
Around here, perspective is nearly as valued as the power play.
And then the Bruins show up.
There’s just something about this game that makes calm seem like an unreasonable posture. It could be that David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have been hounding the Lightning for years. It could be that Brad Marchand is such a delicious villain.
Or this year, it could be that the Bruins have looked more like the Lightning than the guys with the bolts on their jerseys.
Whatever the reason, Thursday night’s 3-2 win against Boston was as reassuring as anything the Lightning have done this season. It wasn’t the scoreboard, per se. And it certainly wasn’t the standings because the Lightning have no hope of catching Boston in the Atlantic Division.
It was the sound, methodical and grown-up way the Lightning played. For a team that has struggled with too many penalties and has had too many nights with too many defensive breakdowns, this was a reminder that the road to the Stanley Cup final has started on Channelside Drive in recent years.
“They’re a great team,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, who scored the game-winner with 6:41 remaining in the third period. “They’ve had a lot of success in the regular season. We were looking forward to this game, that’s for sure. It’s not an easy team to beat.
“As long as we don’t beat ourselves, we’re a tough team to play against as well. I think we proved that tonight.”
I’m guessing Hedman wasn’t taking a shot at Boston, but it was interesting that he pointed out the Bruins have had a lot of success this regular season. As opposed to, say, the postseason.
While the Lightning have gone 82-50 in the playoffs since 2015, the Bruins are 36-34. And they’ve lost twice to Tampa Bay in the second round.
That idea of getting over the hump is something the Lightning know as well as anyone in the NHL. And it is nights such as Thursday that stand as a perpetual reminder.
Make no mistake, the Bruins are the class of the NHL right now. As good as the Lightning played on Thursday, they still blew two leads and needed every one of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 37 saves.
So, no, this wasn’t a statement. Any team that has won four Eastern Conference titles, two Stanley Cups and 82 playoff games in eight seasons does not need to prove itself to anyone before the All-Star break.
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Instead, this felt like tickling a memory. It felt like validation for a style of play that has served the Lightning well since 2020. It felt like a gentle nudge that Tampa Bay is not going away without a fight.
“The Boston Bruins are in our division and they’ve been a rival for the 10 years I’ve been here. We’ve played them in the playoffs a ton. All these players are extremely familiar with each other,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
“They’re just fun games to be a part of, whether it’s this year or last year or the year before, they’re always fun. Usually, the games deliver, and I think this game delivered again tonight.”
It’s still hard to tell whether the Lightning are just adjusting to some new players in the lineup, or whether losing Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta has left them permanently diminished.
General manager Julien BriseBois pointed out earlier this week that Tampa Bay’s points percentage in the standings is nearly identical to recent seasons, which suggests this is business as usual.
“Right now, we have a really good group,” BriseBois said. “I believe in these players, I believe in these coaches. They’ve shown us before they can do it. They’re proving to us, based on their play right now, they’re still an elite team. And we’re a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.”
You came here looking for clues Thursday evening. You came looking for a sign that told you Boston is not as monstrous as the standings would indicate. Something that convinced you Tampa Bay’s three-year stranglehold on the Eastern Conference is not yet winding down.
You got a 3-2 win.
Even better, you got a reminder of what the Lightning are capable of when they play their type of game.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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