Early on this season, the Boston Bruins’ (11-5-1) inconsistent play has been well documented. Stretches of very good play during one shift have been followed by very poor play. Oddly enough however, the inconsistencies in Boston’s game have not been there when they have faced the Atlantic Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning (13-5-0). In the team’s first two matchups against each other, Boston has dominated play, outscoring Tampa Bay 8-1.
The teams squared off once again in a matinee game on Veteran’s Day, and the outcome was once again the same, a Bruins victory. Boston, winners of their last two, continued their strong homestand, keeping the Lightning grounded, winning 3-0. It was another good showing for the Bruins, as their stretch of good play continued.
“I think our team’s playing better all the time,” Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I think we looked more like the team we want to be tonight. And we played a pretty good team and I thought our guys handled themselves well.”
The first period went by without either team scoring, but the Bruins were still able to come out and set the tone early. Boston was physical and winning puck battles along the boards, both of which are very good signs for this Bruins team.
Boston was finally able to score 17:09 in the second period. It was a typical “Bruins” goal, coming off hard work and a gritty effort.
A shot from Bruins defenseman Torey Krug was knocked down by Loui Eriksson, who was streaking in front of the Lightning goal, looking for the tip. As the puck sat in the middle of a crowd of skaters, Patrice Bergeron was able to get to the puck and get a wrist shot past Lightning goalie Anders Lindback. Bergeron’s goal, his sixth of the season, exemplified what has gotten the Bruins back on track during their recent stretch of solid games. The team is getting to the dirty areas of the ice, fighting and working hard, something they were not doing on a consistent enough basis earlier this season.
It was twenty seconds later when Boston struck the Lightning again. This time, it was the Bruins fourth line that electrified the crowd. Daniel Paille’s pressure on Lightning defenseman Keith Aulie caused a misplayed puck on the Bruins blue line. Using his excellent speed, Paille blew by Aulie and retrieved the puck in the neutral zone. Linemate Shawn Thorton joined the rush, creating a 2-on-1. As Thorton drove towards goal down the right side, Paille carried the puck to the net from the left wing, cut to the slot and got a backhander past Lindback. The two quick goals definitely energized the TD Garden.
Although Boston deserves most of the credit for the two goals, I have to mention the horrific injury that occurred to the Lightning’s best player, Steven Stamkos, just minutes before the Bergeron goal. On the play, Stamkos was racing back to his net to defend a Bruins rush when he got tangled up with Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton and crashed into the goal post. Stamkos was helped off the ice on a stretcher and it was reported after the game that the superstar center had suffered a broken tibia.
Boston finished strong, due in large part to the efforts of Tuukka Rask in net. Rask, who has not allowed a goal against the Lightning in 149 minutes and 28 seconds, stopped all 28 shots he faced, including 10 in the third period.
Rask spoke after the game and talked about the success his team has had against Tampa Bay. “I think we’ve played pretty good games against them, so I haven’t had to be unbelievable out there, make backdoor saves all the time. So I think some of the best games we’ve played have been against them. That obviously helps the goalie.”
It is a bit unusual to see how dominant the Bruins have been against a Lightning team that has been one of the surprise teams in the NHL so far this season. More than half of Tampa Bay’s losses this year have come against Boston. It may be coincidence, but the Bruins have been at their best against statistically the best team in their conference. This season, the Bruins have played like surge protectors against Tampa Bay, as the Lightning have yet to do any damage against them.