Goals from Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, and (finally) Noel Acciari contributed to Boston’s exhilarating victory. They outshot the Lightning 41-21 and seemed to have the game under lock from the get-go. Even more impressive was the fact that they didn’t surrender a single point to Nikita Kucherov, Braden Point, and Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay’s leading scorers.
Despite their dominance, the Bruins can’t rest on their laurels. Toppling the best team in the league means nothing if the confidence and reassurance accompanying such a win aren’t capitalized upon. One victory over the Lightning can also mean very little in a best-of-seven playoff series if the Bruins don’t match the intensity they brought to Thursday’s matchup.
Bruins’ Depth Heating Up
Bergeron and Marchand are a duo the Bruins have relied upon for a decade. They have continued to show just why that is, each netting a goal on Thursday night. What’s interesting is that both of their goals were assisted by other players.
Danton Heinen, who has been playing alongside Bergeron and Marchand in David Pastrnak’s absence, earned a helper on each tally. While he hasn’t put the puck in the net since Feb. 12, he has inked five assists in his last five games. The lack of scoring has certainly affected by his shot totals: he’s only registered eight in those five games. While it would be nice to see him shoot the puck more, opting to send a pass to Marchand and Bergeron is tough to argue and also seems to be working. The young forward has proven to be a reliable place-holder for Pastrnak.
Heinen has struggled offensively throughout the season, but he’s seen an uptick thanks to his elite linemates. It’s hard not to improve when playing alongside those two players, but it may be the boost Heinen needs to continue this production even when he is relegated to bottom-nine duties upon Pastrnak’s return. Going as many as 11 games without a point earlier in the season easily sunk the young winger’s confidence. However, the recent resurgence – elite linemates aside – is something Heinen can carry with him when his time on the first line comes to an end.
Also inking an assist were Acciari and Chris Wagner. The Bruins’ fourth line has been on fire in the second half of the 2018-19 campaign and has shown no signs of slowing down. The Acciari, Wagner, and Sean Kuraly combination has nabbed goals, hit hard, and overall dictated the pace of play for Boston – so much so that Cassidy regularly throws them on the ice for the opening faceoff.
The line combined for seven of Boston’s 41 shots against Tampa Bay. Acciari also inked just his third goal of the season, and many Bruins fans are pointing out the magic of the bubble. Kuraly wore a clear face mask for a stretch of games due to a facial injury. He registered a slew of points during that time. Now, thanks to a puck to the face against the San Jose Sharks, Acciari has donned the bubble and came up with two points.
Unfortunately, Kuraly took a devastating one-two punch behind Tampa Bay’s net. A hit from Brayden Coburn sent Kuraly backward, and as he fell his head collided with Erik Cernak’s shoulder. He was removed from the game by a concussion spotter and it is yet unknown the severity of the injury. Peter Cehlarik was called up from the AHL on an emergency basis and Kuraly was not on the ice for practice on Friday:
Brandon Carlo on the ice for Bruins practice. Sean Kuraly is not.
Also missing: Patrice Bergeron, who had a maintenance day pre-Tampa.
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) March 1, 2019
Boston’s depth has been coming up big as of late and at the perfect time. However, that doesn’t mean they can afford to relax as they inch closer to playoff hockey.
Pedal to the Metal
The win over the Lightning is certainly an encouraging sign for Bruins fans. Tampa Bay is running away with the President’s Trophy and are hands down the biggest contenders for the Stanley Cup. Boston’s recent point streak of 15 games and their impressive victory over the league’s best team has Boston buzzing.
However, the win needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In Game 1 of their second-round series in the 2018 playoffs, the Bruins defeated the Lightning 6-2. The same question had been asked in the last leg of the 2017-18 season: could the Bruins compete with the Lightning? Game 1 certainly indicated that they could, but Tampa Bay went on to win the next four games to take the series 4-1. They outscored Boston 15-7 in those last four games.
With that history in mind, the Bruins can’t let up at all. One win in a seven-game series against the Lightning evidently means very little. This Tampa Bay team has the ability to turn the tables quickly and leave their opponents shell-shocked. Boston needs to put every ounce of their effort in order to skate by Tampa Bay in the postseason – if they make it there.
As of now, the Bruins would be meeting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2019 postseason. The rivalry between these two teams has grown thanks to a number of recent playoff series, and each series could have gone either way. Luckily for Boston, they came out on top in each instance. This postseason, the Bruins could easily come out on the losing end against a Toronto team that has made some upgrades since their last playoff meeting in 2018.
Boston’s win over the Lightning is something to be proud of and clearly displays their ability to keep up with the NHL’s best team this season. However, the Bruins must continue performing at a high level. Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear with wild-card teams just 10 points behind them. Boston will need even greater victories in the near future and they will need their depth to continue contributing if they plan on having postseason success.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.