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It may be on points alone, but the Boston Bruins finally have a grip on first place in the Atlantic Division.
In a thrilling 1-0 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena, the Bruins matched Tampa Bay’s 83-point mark behind a dagger from Brad Marchand
just 10 seconds into overtime, while backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson
made a career-high 42 saves. And although the Bruins technically remain in second place in the division with Tampa Bay having played one less game than the Black and Gold, the Bruins’ two-night Florida sweep is just another step forward for a B’s squad that is undoubtedly rolling with their most confidence of the 2015-16 season.
In a game that was almost all Tampa Bay, Marchand came through with the B’s best chance of the opening frame on a shorthanded breakaway chance stoned by Ben Bishop
It would be one of their only, too.
The Lightning repeatedly took it to the Bruins, but were constantly met with iron or with a huge stop from No. 50 in the B’s crease. Gustavsson really seemed to up his game in the middle frame, too, with huge stops midway through the period on great give-and-gos from the Bolts, the first from Nikita Nesterov to Alex Killorn and the second from Ondrej Palat to Tyler Johnson.
But the Bolts’ best chance of the second undoubtedly came with a Nikita Kucherov
blast that beat Gustavsson but did not beat the crossbar, as it was one of three posts the Lightning hit in the loss.
Tampa Bay’s frustration only grew when they couldn’t strike in a third period that began with a 9-0 shot advantage, another post-shot, this one from Ryan Callahan, and seemed evident as ever as shots somehow repeatedly evaded getting on Gustavsson for the final seven and a half minutes of the period.
With zero goals on a combined 74 shots through 60 minutes of play (42 from the Lightning and 32 from the Bruins), it would be Marchand’s first of the overtime that counted, as the B’s took advantage on assignment miscues from the Bolts’ forward duo of Valtteri Filppula and J.T. Brown.
The goal was Marchand’s 34th of the season, and moved him within four of Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane
for second in the NHL, and just seven away from Alex Ovechkin for first.
Random thoughts and notes
- It was a two-game, two-night Sunshine State sweep for the Bruins. And it doesn’t happen without some absolutely insane goaltending from the B’s two netminders. First came Tuukka Rask
’s nutso 47-of-51 night in Florida on Monday, and then Gustavsson upped that with a 42-of-42 game. In other words, Boston netminders have stopped all but four of the last 93 shots thrown their way.
And not for nothing, but for a goaltender making his first start in over two weeks, Gustavsson looked locked into a zone. That’s really
the key takeaway for the Bruins in this one, too. I think just about everybody agrees that the B’s will make the playoffs this season. But it won’t be a long run if Rask has to start 11 of the final 14 games of the season. And you’re comfortable giving a larger workload to Gustavsson if he continues to put nights like the one he had on Tuesday together for the B’s.
- At the same time, 93 shots against in two games? Yikes City. Or, in more professional terms, that is not a recipe for playoff success. I suppose it’s too soon to worry yourself into a tizzy over those inflated shot totals just yet -- especially after a week that saw the B’s smother Kane, Calgary Flames sniper Johnny Gaudreau, and to a lesser extent Ovechkin -- but if it continues on into Thursday’s game against Carolina, then yes, it’s worth fretting over. Even if it’s just a little bit.
Related thought: For as much rotten luck as he’s had out there this season, you can’t look at the B’s performances the last two games and say that Kevan Miller
would not have helped limit those shots against, even if it’s in ugly fashion. Miller was honestly playing his best hockey of the year at the time of his injury, and now the Bruins are forced to hope that one of Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman emerge as a legitimate go-to option for the club down the stretch (Morrow got the chance tonight).
- B’s coach Claude Julien
did a little bit of line-juggling before this game, and tinkered with ‘em a bit during the game, too. That ultimately put Matt Beleskey
with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes and Loui Eriksson
back with David Krejci and David Pastrnak for much of the night. They all looked pretty solid with these combos, too, but I can’t help but feel as if you get the most balance out of your roster when Beleskey is with Krejci-Pastrnak and Eriksson is with Spooner and Hayes. Yet, at the same time, I think Beleskey has been at his absolute best with Spooner as his centerman, and Eriksson with Krejci. But a swap involving the right wingers seems unlikely, so.
- The more I watch Noel Acciari
play this year, the more I realize that he’s not going back to Providence. In just a few games with the B’s, Acciari has had twice the impact that Joonas Kemppainen
has had on that Boston fourth line. He’s a pedal-to-the-metal workerbee that can hit like a truck and plays the game of a grizzled vet, not a true first-year pro. Julien likes that, I’m sure.
The Bruins will return back to Boston for a Thursday night affair with the Carolina Hurricanes. It will be the second of three showdowns between the B’s and ‘Canes, with the Bruins winning the first one by a 4-1 final back on Feb. 26. The Hurricanes’ playoff hopes are on death row, as they sit four points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (with one more game played than the Detroit Red Wings, too), and another loss to the Black and Gold would by all means serve as the deathblow.
Ty Anderson has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, has been a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter since 2013, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com.