With four games left in the 2016-17 NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning (39-29-10) trail their opponents tonight, the Boston Bruins (43-30-6), by four gigantic points in the playoff race. With a win here, the Bruins clinch a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons. For Tampa Bay it means narrowing the gap to the elusive second wild card. This is the very definition of a must win game for the Lightning. Did they pull it off or fall short? Let’s take a look at how the action unfolded.
The Lightning and Bruins showed a cautious approach to this game with playoff ramifications. They took their time to feel out another’s play waiting for the proper time to attack. The problem was that neither team was willing to give that opening. It was the equivalent of watching two wrestlers grappling to a stalemate. That was until the Bruins decided to use what has worked for them in the past and incorporate their physicality. They forced their weight on their speedy rivals and were able to formulate precious offensive zonetime as a result.
With the game bending to their will as the Bruins were finding holes in the Lightning’s defensive structure, team MVP Brad Marchand would decide to do what he does best and put his agitation before the symbol on his chest. In a heated battle with Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin, Marchand decided to spear the rookie in quite a tender area and receive a five-minute game misconduct. It was an act of complete indiscipline and it forced his team to be without their best scorer the rest of the game.
Tampa Bay entered the second period with over four minutes of power play time and poured it down the drain. It took them half the opportunity to set up in Boston’s zone and, once they did, the Bruins quickly bounced them out. It was as if seeing Marchand’s disgraceful act sparked Boston to elevate their game. They dictated play in incredibly long stretches and kept the Lightning bottled up in their zone. Their dominant start to the second earned them a 20 to 4 shot advantage and a Drew Stafford goal just 5:56 into the period. It was an utter shock to see the Bolts this outplayed in a game with stakes as high as this.
While the Lightning held on by their fingernails, star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was dialed in. He turned away Boston scoring chances and made desperate saves to keep his team in the tilt. If it wasn’t for him, the score could easily have been completely lopsided. Unfortunately the pressure would eventually prove to be too much and, towards the end of the second, Boston extended their lead to two off a David Pastrnak one timer at 16:06. With the game ripped out of their hands, the Lightning trudged to the locker room in desperate need of an amazing third period.
Down by two to start the third, the Lightning came out with quite a mountain to climb. They began to ascend it slowly with a more risky approach to their play. Just as they were able to find solid footing and obtain zone pressure rookie Yanni Gourde takes a high-sticking call and gives Boston an opportunity they would not squander. It would be Bruin’s captain Zdeno Chara with the one timer to stick the knife in the hopes of Tampa Bay.
In a game that was a must win for the Bolts, they found themselves facing the exit. No matter what they tried, they were unable to grasp the fleeting tide of momentum. The game ended not with a roar or a cheer, but a whimper as the buzzer sounded and the Lightning took the one thing they could not, a regulation loss. With this win, Boston clinched a playoff spot for the first time in three years and the Bolts faded into the shadows.
Three Stars of The Game:
- Tukka Rask, shutout & win
- David Pastrnak, 2 goals
- Andrei Vasilevskiy, 34 saves, 3 goals allowed
Next up: Tampa Bay Lightning (39-30-10) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (39-24-15) on Thursday night at 7:30pm at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.