March 8 – Day 145 – Another lesson in alliteration: Bruins and Bolts battle for… the Atlantic Division

It took overtime, but Boston was able to continue their season dominance against the Panthers, beating them in a wild 5-4 game.

It took only 34 seconds before Boston took the lead on a Third Star of the Game Patrice Bergeron tip-in (his 27th tally of the season), who was assisted by Brad Marchand and First Star Lee Stempniak.  They followed that up with a score at the seven minute mark, scored by David Pastrnak, who was assisted by Matt Beleskey (his 20th helper of the season) and Dennis Seidenberg.  The Bruins‘ lead became three goals 5:22 later with a Brett Connolly snap shot (his ninth tally of the season), assisted by Noel Acciari.  Florida got a goal back with 3:12 remaining in the period on an Aleksander Barkov wrister, assisted by Jaromir Jagr (his 28th helper of the season) and Jonathan Huberdeau, but Boston returned their lead to three with Bergeron’s second score of the period, assisted by Stempniak (his 30th helper of the season) and Marchand.  The 4-1 score held into the first intermission.

Both goals in the second period belonged to the Panthers, with their first occurring only 3:15 after resuming play.  It was Second Star Jiri Hudler’s slap shot that found the back of the net, assisted by Huberdeau (his 31st helper of the season) and Erik Gudbranson.  Only 2:53 later, Florida pulled within a goal with a Jussi Jokinen power play wrister, assisted by Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck (his 22nd helper of the season).  The 4-3 score held through the rest of the second period and into the second intermission.

Florida got their leveler with 4:43 remaining in regulation from Hudler, assisted by Alex Petrovic and Nick Bjugstad (his 13th helper of the season).  Neither team was able to break the tie, forcing the game into three-on-three overtime.

The Bruins earned the bonus point with a minute remaining in that overtime period, assisted by Ryan Spooner (his 33rd helper of the season) and John-Michael Liles.

Tuukka Rask earns the win after saving 47 of 51 shots faced (92.2%), while Al Montoya takes the overtime loss, saving all but the winner (93.8%).  He replaced Roberto Luongo after the first period, who saved only 12 of 16 (75%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 64-37-14, favoring the home side by 29 points over the roadies.

It’s a relatively busy Tuesday in the NHL, especially in comparison to yesterday’s slate of games.  The action starts at 7 p.m. eastern with three contests (the New York Rangers at Buffalo, Ottawa at Carolina and Detroit at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders [NBCSN], Dallas at Montréal and Boston at Tampa Bay).  Nashville at Winnipeg drops the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by this evening’s nightcap San Jose at Edmonton.

Half of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Pittsburgh at New York, Boston at Tampa Bay, Nashville at Winnipeg and San Jose at Edmonton), but only two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Pittsburgh at New York and Boston at Tampa Bay).

I know that we just featured Boston yesterday, but a regulation win by the Bruins this evening would propel them into first place in the Atlantic Division from third, and that is too much to ignore.

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This will be Boston‘s 16th appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they now own a 6-8-1 record after last night’s contest.  Tampa Bay has been featured 13 times before tonight, and own a 9-3-1 record in such games.  Their most recent showing in the series was a 4-1 victory in Boston on February 28.

The 37-23-7 Boston Bruins currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the third best offense in the league, but it’s been paired with the 12th worst defense.  A more in-depth analysis of their game can be found within yesterday’s article.

After yesterday’s win, the Bruins are within a point of the division lead.  However, if they want to capture that position, they will need to earn their two points within the 60 minutes of regulation, as Tampa Bay would win the games played tiebreaker should the squads end the evening tied at 83 points apiece.

The 39-23-4 Tampa Bay Lightning currently occupy the top spot in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the fourth best defense in the league, backed by the ninth best scoring offense.

Led by Victor Hedman’s 106 blocks, the Bolts have allowed only 1853 shots to reach 28-17-3 Ben Bishop and co, of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 155 goals against, the fourth fewest in the NHL.  That success continues on the power play, where Tampa Bay kills 83.76% of their penalties, allowing only 32 power play goals, the seventh best rate in the league.  Further improving that rate, Tampa also has five shorthanded goals to their credit, led by Brian Boyle’s two.

The offense doesn’t trail too far behind.  Even with Steven Stamkos’ 179 shots, the Bolts have fired the puck only 1892 times, but 9.5% have found the back of the net for 183 goals (led by Stamkos’ 29 tallies), ninth most in the league.  Even though Tampa has an incredibly accurate offense, their power play is still nowhere near as effective as they would like, as it is successful on only 17.19% of attempts, the sixth worst rate in the league, for 38 power play goals (led by Stamkos’ 12 extra man tallies).  Even worse, the Lightning have allowed six shorthanded goals, one more than the league average.

Last night’s 4-2 loss in Philadelphia ended Tampa Bay‘s nine game winning streak, but they don’t have the opportunity to think about what could have been.  Tonight, they need to defend their division lead from the Bruins, and push Florida away in the process.

Tampa Bay currently leads the season series 2-1-0, with the most recent meeting being the 4-1 Tampa Bay win in Boston on February 28.  Interestingly, neither team has been able to hold home ice, so perhaps Jon Cooper and Claude Julien both use that statistic to their own ends in their pregame speeches.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Boston‘s Bergeron (28 goals [tied for ninth most in the league]), Marchand (33 goals [third most in the league] and +22 [tied for eighth best in the league]) and Rask (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league] and 27 wins [tied for seventh most in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Bishop (2.06 GAA [leads the league], .926 save percentage [fourth best in the league] and 28 wins [sixth most in the league]) and Stamkos (29 goals [tied for seventh most in the league]).

I think this one goes the Bruins way.  Both teams played last night, but the Lightning had to travel home all the way from the City of Brotherly Love.  And, of course, neither team has won on home ice against the other.  Sounds reason enough for me!  Should Tampa reverse that trend, it will be largely up to their defense to keep shots off Bishop’s net.

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