Tampa Bay Lightning lose top spot in the Atlantic in 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins

(Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning officially lose the top spot in the Atlantic in a frustrating 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden in Boston.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a lot on the line tonight as they made their way into the TD Garden to take on one of their toughest challenges of the season, the Boston Bruins. With the Bruins a mere point behind the Lightning in the Atlantic Division, a victory for the Lightning would be crucial to holding onto the top spot.

The Lightning hasn’t exactly had the best luck against the Bruins this season. The Bruins have topped the Bolts in both meetings they’ve had so far this season, including a 3-0 shutout loss on March 17 at the Amalie Arena in Downtown Tampa.

There was some good news for the Bolts prior to puck drop this evening. It was officially announced both Steven Stamkos, who missed Monday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes due to “body maintenance” and Victor Hedman, who was shaken up late in the game on Monday night, would both be in the lineup tonight against the Bruins.

Things started out on a fairly even keel between these two Atlantic Division titans. Unfortunately, by the halfway point in the period, there was a definite advantage in favor of the Bruins. The Lightning seemed to struggle to keep the puck out of the defensive zone and gave the Bruins far too many scoring chances.

As time continued to tick off the clock and the Lightning and Bruins found themselves just past the halfway point, the Bruins were outshooting the Lightning 10-4. As the old saying goes, “you fail to score on 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” If the Bolts wanted to bring home the two points, they would have to be much more offensively aggressive.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

Regrettably, the Lightning would find themselves engulfed in much of the same darkness which has clouded the last month or so of play. With less than a minute left in the first period, the Bruins would pick up the first goal of the game thanks to forward Tim Schaller absolutely crashing the net; something the Lightning defense never should’ve allowed to happen.

This one lies squarely in the lap of Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh was with the play all the way but did very little to keep the Bruins away from Andrei Vasilevskiy and the back of the net.

While this is not McDonagh’s usual MO, if the Lightning is going to be successful in the postseason, this is something which simply must stop.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock in the first period, it seemed as if the Bolts would finish the first and start the second on the Penalty Kill as forward Alex Killorn was handed a one-way ticket to the sin bin for Interference against Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk.  Well…about that.

The Bruins would definitively win the faceoff in their offensive zone and in a matter of seconds would have a two-goal lead over the Lightning. This time, the goal would go to winger David Pastrnak, which would be his 32nd goal of the season. Little mistakes like this could cost the Bolts everything in the postseason.

The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to have caught a second wind in the second period of play. Lightning fans got to see something they haven’t seen from this team in quite some time, real unbridled emotion. We know…shocking, right?

At 1:18 in the second period, the Lightning would find themselves with their second Power Play opportunity of the night as Brian Gionta was sent to the sin bin for Boarding against Anthony Cirelli. The Bolts would make the most out of the opportunity by making it a one-goal game once again with a goal from J.T. Miller.

It would be a little over seven minutes before the Lightning would get another opportunity at the Power Play, but this time the Bolts simply couldn’t close the deal. Regrettably, this seems to be the turning point in the period. It was a couple minutes later when things got absolutely out of hand.

Cory Conacher came rushing down the ice in pursuit of Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo. Carlo would crash into the net, making contact with goaltender Tuukka Rask. Conacher would not be far behind, but never really makes contact with Rask. Well…apparently, Rask took exception to the collision and wasted no time in attacking Conacher.

Rask decided he didn’t need to throw off his blockers before he started taking swings at Cory Conacher. Let’s ignore the fact that much of the time Rask was wailing on Conacher, Conacher was in a headlock from behind and vastly unable to properly defend himself. The exchange ended with Coacher being driven into the ice.

Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy came rushing across the ice looking to get a piece of Rask, but Rask wanted nothing to do with the Lightning netminder. He’d prefer to throw down with 5’8”, 180 pound Conacher in lieu of a 6’3’, 207-pound Vasilevskiy. We can’t say we disagree with his decision, though. We don’t want a piece of Vasy either.

Here’s a look at how things shook out after the chaos came to a conclusion.

Rask fight penalties
Rask fight penalties /

Things were on absolute fire from this point on. When the buzzer sounded to end the second period of play, the Lightning would make up a lot of ground in the Shots on Goal department. The Bolts would outshoot the Bruins 11-3 in the second for a two-period total of 18-20 in favor of the Bruins.

The Lightning had an excellent chance to tie things up in the third period, but the goal was almost immediately waived off by the refs as goaltender interference on Anthony Cirelli. Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper would challenge the call on the ice, but the all-knowing “hockey gods” in Toronto decided there was, in fact, goaltender interference and the Lightning lost their time out.

This was probably one of the weakest calls of the game, of which there were many. Unfortunately, you simply cannot make valid logic out of the NHL’s officiating. Inconsistent is probably the understatement of the century when it comes to the officials.

People can scream until they turn blue in the face, but as long as the NHL continues to get their money, nothing is going to change. The best thing a team can do is adapt and keep pushing forward.

Just before the 12-minute mark in the third period, the Bruins would once again increase their lead to two with a goal from Patrice Bergeron; his 28th goal of the season. Despite being down by two goals at this point, the Tampa Bay Lightning hadn’t given up hope of bringing home a victory in Boston.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman took a simple shot on goal from the dot. Initially, it looked as if Tuukka Rask was ready to make the save. Unfortunately for the Bruins, what Rask didn’t anticipate was the puck rolling right off his blocker and into the back of the net.

70. 2. 23. Final. 4

Maybe this is just us being petty, but we could watch Rask’s reaction to the Hedman goal on loop for hours on end. He looked so utterly disappointed in himself for missing such a simple block. There is no denying, this is a goal which will haunt Rask for quite some time.

The Bolts would fight incredibly hard to tie the game up and take things to an overtime period, bringing home a minimum of one point. Regrettably, this simply wasn’t meant to be. An empty-net goal from Brad Marchand would essentially put the nail in the coffin which held Lightning fans’ hopes and dreams of victory.

When all was said and done, the Tampa Bay Lightning would fall 4-2 to the Boston Bruins. Tomorrow morning will be the very first time since October 19 where players like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who have absolutely worked their tails off this season, will wake up and not be in first place in the Atlantic Division.

For now, this honor belongs to the Boston Bruins. All hope is not lost, though. The Lightning has one more encounter with the Bruins before the end of the regular season. The Bolts and Bruins will meet at the center of the ice one more time this season, on April 3. Their final meeting of the season will be at the Amalie Arena.

Despite tonight’s loss, both to the Bruins and of the top spot in the Atlantic Division, we still have hope for the remainder of the regular season. This is the most passionate we have seen the Tampa Bay Lightning in a very long time. Since clinching their playoff berth, it almost seems as if the Bolts have just been going through the motions. Their play tonight proves differently.

The Lightning got off to a rough start in the final moments of the first period, but when they hit the ice for the second, it was clear they came prepared to play. The Bolts simply couldn’t catch a break tonight and simple mistakes proved to be their downfall. This is something which can be corrected if addressed properly. (Here’s looking at you, Jon Cooper and Rick Bowness.)

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The Bolts will be heading out of Beantown quickly tonight. Just 24 hours after puck drop against Boston, the Lightning will be back at it again. This time, they will be at Madison Square Garden where they will take on the New York Rangers. Here’s hoping the Lightning channel their emotions from tonight’s loss and take every single ounce of their frustration out on the Blueshirts tomorrow night in the Big Apple.