Bruins Continue To Make Case As Contenders

Boston's ability to rise to the challenge during a critical stretch of games should pay dividends going forward.

If you only saw the final score of the Bruins game against the Lightning Thursday night, you did not get the full picture. A 2-1 final lends itself to thoughts of a tight defensive game, great goaltending and evenly matched teams, and that is what the game was to a certain extent.

However, that 2-1 score does not take into account how much better the Bruins looked than their Eastern Conference foes from Tampa Bay. The sound of rubber hitting metal rang out in the Tampa Bay zone repeatedly. Nathan Horton missed two wide open nets.

There were several times Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith had no idea where the puck was until it hit him. Those are all usual hockey plays to be sure. Sometimes the bounces go your way and sometimes they go against you but the Bruins dominated play for large stretches and looked like a team that had no doubts about winning the game right from the start.

“Great save by the goaltender at times and I think we hit about three pipes tonight,” said head coach Claude Julien. ” So overall this is where your team has to stick with it and not get frustrated and I thought we did that throughout the game.”

What was clear at the end of the night, however, was that Boston is the better team and an increasingly powerful force as they head instead the final eighteen games of the season.

A big reason for the Bruins success this season is that for every one player that is slumping, there always seems to be another playing who is stepping up to carry the team and lately that player has been Milan Lucic. A patient Lucic waited by the side of the Tampa Bay net late in the third, refusing to give up on the play as multiple Lightning players hit the ice around the crease in an attempt to keep the puck out of the net.

Luckily for the Bruins, Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith never got the puck and it squirted out to a waiting and ready Lucic. A bad angle shot found the back of the Lightning net and the Bruins had their game winning goal.

“Initially I thought when I gave that pass to Horty [Nathan Horton] that he scored but it popped out there. I was just trying to look for the loose puck because there was enough guys in front of the net,” said Lucic. “I knew there was no real reason for me to get in there but just kind of wait around, see if something popped out and it did and everyone was on the ice including their goalie so I just shot as high and hard and it went it.”

The win against the Lightning also validated Boston’s strong play on their road trip. Their 6-0 road trip romp was diminished by some who pointed out that they beat a dreadful Ottawa team twice, an Islanders team that is less than stellar and a bottom feeding Edmonton team. From the drop of the puck Thursday night, Boston put any lingering doubts to rest.

Boston even had to endure a lengthy 5-on-3 penalty kill after a questionable tripping call against Horton, putting the Bruins at a distinct disadvantage against Tampa Bay’s potent power play, but Bergeron, Boychuk, Chara and the rest of the penalty kill unit made sure the Lightning did not get the opportunity to turn the game in their favor.

“The first one back [after a road trip] is always the toughest and I think we played the same way. All twenty guys did what they needed to do. And I think, looking at today, I think you can definitely credit the penalty killers for the job that they did. They were outstanding today, they were perfect. They kept us in the game starting from Timmy [Tim Thomas] to all the penalty killers. They definitely gave us that chance to win,” Lucic said.

Perhaps the most encouraging take away point from the Bruins victory is that they rose to the challenge in a big game at home, competing for a full sixty minutes and smothering the Lightning. With just eighteen games left on the schedule every point is critical and with their victory last night the Bruins moved into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference and look primed to make a run at taken over first place from Philadelphia.

Do not tell the Bruins that, however. It was just another game in an overall mission to be better.

“That wasn’t our focus necessarily going into tonight’s game. It was to keep working toward playing good hockey, and the results will be there for you. So, we got the result we wanted, and I think we did a good job,” said Tim Thomas.

The Bruins return to action Saturday in another big game against a battered Pittsburgh team, with another critical two points on the line. Chances are these Bruins will come out ready to stretch that win streak to eight.

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