Each time the Lightning have faced the Bruins in recent years, they’ve treated it as a measuring-stick game. So, when they wrap up their four-game road trip Tuesday night in Boston, it will be another opportunity to gauge where their game is against one of the league’s best teams.
The Bruins aren’t the same team that set an NHL record for points (135) last season, but they are still tops in the Eastern Conference, leading the Atlantic Division by three points. Only the Vancouver Canucks have more points, and a better points percentage and goal differential.
Because they lost the first two games on their trip — back to back against the Rangers and Islanders in New York — the Lightning need a win at Boston to avoid a losing road trip in a season in which they’ve struggled greatly away from Amalie Arena.
They’ll take some momentum from Saturday’s 4-2 victory in Columbus, though a Blue Jackets team that had the fewest points in the East and has lost 13 of its 18 past games is hardly ideal preparation for the Bruins.
Like Tampa Bay, however, Boston has lost two of its first three games coming out of the All-Star break.
In the first game, the Lightning blew a one-goal lead after two periods before rallying from two third-period deficits to tie with 4.8 seconds left on Steven Stamkos’ extra-attacker goal and win on Brandon Hagel’s goal during the 3-on-3 overtime. They finished strong defensively, allowing just five shots on goal over the third period and overtime. The game snapped a 10-game losing streak for the Lightning in games decided in overtime going back to last season, including three in the first-round playoff series against the Maple Leafs.
The Lightning got depth scoring in the first game against the Bruins, with bottom-six forwards Tanner Jeannot and Austin Watson finding the back of the net. Mikey Eyssimont also was a difference-maker with his engine and offensive pressure.
It wasn’t a perfect win, as the Lightning allowed too many Grade-A chances and scored just one power-play goal in more than nine minutes of man-advantage time. But the biggest takeaway was that they found a way to punch back every time the Bruins took the lead.
It’s something the Lightning couldn’t manage in the second meeting between the teams.
After taking a 2-1 lead, the Bruins three times extended their lead to two goals before pulling away in the final minutes. The game was closer than the four-goal margin indicated, with the Lightning leading in 5-on-5 chances, 20-12. There also were some memorable moments: Rookie Emil Lilleberg, making his NHL debut, unloaded a jarring hit on Trent Frederic to show he belonged, and Nikita Kucherov set up Brayden Point’s second goal with a backhand feed on the rush that was one of the most dynamic plays of the season.
The Lightning didn’t get the same depth scoring, as Point and Kucherov accounted for all of the goals, and Tampa Bay went 0-for-4 on the power play. In the end, what cost the Lightning most was soft coverage in front of their net. The Bruins’ first three goals came from in front, including Frederic’s second goal, after a shot was blocked by Darren Raddysh and rolled to Frederic, who banked the puck in off Andrei Vasilevskiy.
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The game was one of the few in which the Lightning struggled defensively in January. Otherwise, it was their best month of the season, as they won eight of nine going into the break and finished 9-3-0.
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