The Lightning’s regulation losing streak reached a season-high four games with a 2-1 loss to the Bruins on Saturday in Boston. But the way Tampa Bay played against the top team in the NHL was a step forward.
Coach Jon Cooper’s rule is that if you hold an opponent to two goals or fewer, you give yourself a chance to win, and that’s what the Lightning did against the league’s second-best scoring offense.
Garnet Hathaway’s second-period goal, when the Boston forward batted a rebound attempt out of midair past Andrei Vasilevskiy, was the only even-strength goal of the game.
“The loss doesn’t feel great,” Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare told reporters in Boston. “But that kind of passion, I think, is what we maybe missed a little bit. And that’s awesome to watch, awesome to play. I think that was a great answer from those two games we had before. Everybody checked in right away. So it was a good game.”
Here are three things we learned from the Lightning’s loss.
No moral victories against Bruins
The Bruins typically bring out the best in the Lightning (42-26-6). And with eight games remaining in the regular season, there is little time for Tampa Bay to find its postseason form.
This was the best game the Lightning played in more than a week, and they protected the net well. But it’s a reminder that the margin of error against great teams can be minute.
“Eight games left in the regular season and we want to get back on a winning record,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “This was a step in the right direction, but it’s still zero points. If we bring the same attitude next game, I’m sure it’s going to be a different outcome. … Keep playing the same way, we’re going to get some good bounces with us. For us, it’s all about believing in the process.”
Even if the Lightning get past an all-but-official matchup with the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, a series with the Bruins could await. Boston, which clinched the Atlantic Division title with the win, is a much different team since the trade deadline. It has a stronger roster after adding Hathaway, forward Tyler Bertuzzi and defenseman Dmitry Orlov.
Against the Bruins, the Lightning matched the physical, low-scoring, tight-checking game that often wins in the playoffs, even silencing Boston top scorer David Pastrnak, who is one goal from 50 on the season.
Penalty kill delivers
The first period was wild. The Lightning started two fights seconds after puck drop with forward Ross Colton dropping gloves with Bruins forward Jakub Lauko and forward Pat Maroon scrapping with Hathaway. It energized the Lightning but also started a first period in which they had to play 8:49 shorthanded.
“It didn’t feel right or fair that those guys had to sit, so the mentality was like, ‘All right, let’s go kill it for those guys,’ " Bellemare said. “And when you have these kind of commitments that you’re going to play as hard as you can for your teammates, then it pays off.”
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The Lightning penalty kill — which has allowed 17 power-play goals since the All-Star break, third most in the league entering Saturday — played extremely well.
The sole goal it allowed came on a puck that went off Boston forward Patrice Bergeron’s skate, then off Hedman’s skate. Otherwise, Tampa Bay kept all Boston’s power-play attempts to the outside.
With so much time on the penalty kill early, the Lightning’s top scorers were stapled to the bench. In the first 11:51, Brayden Point skated only 1:23, Nikita Kucherov 1:34 and Steven Stamkos 45 seconds.
On the day, the Lightning penalty kill was 6-for-7.
Offensive Victor Hedman
When times get tough, the best players need to show the way. And fans have been waiting for Hedman to take charge, though given the Lightning’s defensive struggles, he likely has been preoccupied with protecting his end.
But as Hedman goes, so goes the Lightning. When he is playing well, the team often is. And when he is aggressive in the offensive zone, his teammates usually follow.
With the Lightning trying to kill off a four-minute double-minor penalty in the first, forward Alex Killorn pulled the puck back past the blue line while Hedman jumped over the bench and streaked toward the left wing. Killorn passed to Bellemare through the middle, and Bellemare set Hedman up with a touch pass to the left point. Hedman launched a rocket slap shot from above the left circle for his first career shorthanded goal.
Through the first two periods, Hedman led the Lightning with five shots on goal and eight shot attempts, then had only one shot attempt in the third.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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