TAMPA, Fla. – The Lightning entered Monday night’s game against the Bruins at Amalie Arena riding a four-game win streak.
Their two most recent wins, against Calgary at home last Thursday and at Nashville on Saturday, were very well played and highlighted by responsible defensive zone play that limited second-chance opportunities.
Coach Jon Cooper could not have asked for a better start against a Boston club that entered the evening 16-2-0, which matched the Bruins’ best mark after 18 games. The last time the Bruins had such a record at this stage of the season? That would be 1929-30.
At any rate, the Lightning threw a blanket over the Bruins in a first period that the home team thoroughly owned. Tampa Bay had the game’s first nine shots on goal and did not yield one until 8:25 elapsed. Yet, when David Krejci scored with 4:24 remaining in the period, the game was tied. It was also the beginning of five straight goals for the Bruins, who shrugged off their sluggish start and went on to win, 5-3.
Make it 17-2-0 for a team that has won each of its 11 home games while sporting an impressive 6-2-0 mark away from Beantown.
As for the Lightning, and if you believe the stat sheet, there were an alarming 21 giveaways on the evening, including many during Boston’s three-goal second period.
Pat Maroon said the Lightning, for the most part, controlled the first and third periods. The middle period, though, was one in which a different team took the ice. And a price was paid.
“We tried to just change our game for some reason,” said Maroon. “We turned pucks over, and then we took some penalties again, and that kills our momentum. When you take too many penalties and turn pucks over into their transition, eventually you are going to get caught, and that’s what happened.”
Boston, whose core players seem to get better with age, capitalized with the man advantage, going 2-for-4 on the night. The Lightning climbed back to within two goals in the third period, but the Bruins had opened up too big of a margin to overcome.
Frankly, much of the carelessness that was too often on display during the season’s first few weeks crept back into play Monday.
“Penalties, turnovers, and a little bit of structure,” is how Cooper described his team’s undoing. “They probably weathered a little bit of our storm in the first period and they get out of the period 1-1. Then they throw us their storm and it’s 4-1. There’s the difference in the game.”
With Ross Colton and Cole Koepke both day-to-day with upper body injuries, Cooper went with a lineup that included seven defensemen against a team that has now outscored its opponents 80-40. One of Tampa Bay’s 11 forwards was Rudolfs Balcers, who was claimed off waivers from Florida on November 12. The 25-year-old Latvian played his second game in a Lightning uniform and scored his first goal for his new club in the third period.
“He’s finding his way, a new kid on our team and doing everything we are asking of him,” said Cooper.
Balcers’ goal made it 5-2. Nick Paul scored his second of the night midway through the final period to bring Tampa Bay to within 5-3, the final margin.
“By then, it was too little, too late,” said Cooper. “Two good teams and it was a good game for the most part, but they deserved it more than we did.”
Milestone: The Bruins poured onto the ice after Patrice Bergeron assisted on Brad Marchand’s goal at 15:08 of the second period. The assist was the 1,000th career point for the 37-year-old captain, in his 19th season with Boston. Bergeron became the fourth player to record 1,000 points in a Bruins uniform joining Ray Bourque (1,506), John Bucyk (1,339), and Phil Esposito (1,012).
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