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Bruins Show They Can Hang With Lightning, Despite Blowing Third-Period Lead

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Make no mistake about it. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a wagon.


You could quantify that any way you'd like. After Monday's comeback win over the Bruins, they're now 59-14-4. That's absurd. Despite having nothing to play for over the past month-plus, they have kept building upon their lead in the standings, where they now have 122 points. The Bruins and Flames are tied for having the second-most points in the NHL ... with 101 apiece. Tampa is just three wins away from tying the 1995-96 Red Wings for most wins in a single season, with 62. The Lightning already rank third all time for most wins a single season; there are five games remaining on the schedule.

The Lightning have a goal differential of plus-100; the next-best team is Calgary ... at plus-55.

Tampa's power play is best in the league. Tampa's penalty kill is second-best in the league (0.2 points behind Arizona). Tampa's 6-1 record in shootouts is best in the league. Tampa's .774 win percentage in one-goal games is by far best in the NHL (Winnipeg is second at .643). Tampa's scored the most 5-on-5 goals (194), the most 5-on-4 goals (62), and the most 5-on-3 goals (8). They've scored the most goals, period. They have two players with more than 40 goals already, and one more player with 38 goals. With five games to play, the Lightning have the chance to be the first team with three 40-goal scorers since 1996.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in the NHL. No other team is close.

But the Boston Bruins? They showed Monday night, despite a short-handed lineup, that they are close to being close.

That fact is, of course, merely a moral victory after the blown two-goal lead in the third period on Monday night. But in the long term, the Bruins at the very least proved that if they are to once again meet up with the mighty Lightning in the second round of the postseason, they're going to have better than a puncher's chance to actually win.

That much was somewhat known already. The Bruins hung in with the Lightning in their first meeting of the year, losing 3-2 in Tampa in early December. The Bruins beat up on the Lightning with a 4-1 win in Boston on Feb. 28. They'll meet one more time, on the final day of the regular season, but that game will likely mean nothing to either team, and thus, its results won't really make much of a statement either way.

Really, the Monday night meeting in Tampa was the last chance for the Bruins to let the Lightning know what awaits them in a month's time.

This is, of course, assuming that the Bruins get past the Leafs and the Lightning get past the Canadiens or Hurricanes or Blue Jackets in the first round. We've all learned over the years that nothing could or should ever be assumed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But we'll nevertheless do exactly that right now.

If we are being honest with one another, the Bruins were moderately lucky to have taken a two-goal lead into the second intermission. Brad Marchand's goal was ... unique.

Immediately after that goal, which put the Lightning down 4-2, Tampa controlled the puck in the Bruins' end for the bulk of the next several minutes, pinning the pairing of Brandon Carlo and Connor Clifton in their own end and keeping them from getting a chance to make the long change in the second period. Included in that stretch was a Cody Parkey-esque double doink:

For much of the evening, the Lightning played a suffocating style. The Bruins at times appeared to be drowning. The disparity in shots -- Tampa had 28 shots on net, while Boston had just 17 -- helps illustrate that reality.

The Bruins somehow escaped that second-period onslaught, but in the third period, they didn't play smart enough to secure the win.

David Pastrnak spent four minutes in the penalty box for a high-stick that drew blood from Ryan McDonagh. Charlie McAvoy went to the box for a hook that appeared to have come out of frustration; the Lightning scored the game-winner in the seconds after McAvoy escaped the box. Marchand took a needlessly dumb penalty in the final minute to rob the Bruins of any final chance to score a late tying goal.

McAvoy and Charlie Coyle got caught coasting in and spectating as Tuukka Rask turned away a Steven Stamkos breakaway in the third period, thus allowed Victor Hedman to waltz to the goal mouth and tap in a much-too-easy goal.

McAvoy got caught up ice, sniffing some offense, thereby allowing the Lightning to get a 2-on-1 rush. On that rush, Nikita Kucherov offered up a snipe-of-the-year candidate.

All of that came after the Bruins lost track of Stamkos as the bottom of the faceoff circle -- a guy you don't want to lose track of, in a place where you really don't want to lose track of him -- in the first for Tampa's first goal of the evening:

Later in that first period, well ...

As a reminder, the Tampa Bay Lightning are very, very good. They're going to score some goals.

And they did score a goal to break a 4-4 tie with just 52.2 seconds left in the game, when Mathieu Joseph fed Anthony Cirelli for a point-blank one-timer, with Steven Kampfer standing directly in front of his own netminder.

The Bruins were playing short-handed to begin with -- still no Kevan Miller, still no Marcus Johansson, still no Torey Krug, still no Matt Grzelcyk, still no Sean Kuraly -- and they lost defenseman John Moore late in the first period to injury. He didn't return, having skated just 4:40. Kampfer was pressed into heavier duty. Connor Clifton was called upon to play 20:33 in his 15th career NHL game, including 2:50 of short-handed time on ice. Karson Kuhlman played 12:03 in just his seventh career game.

The Bruins also scored some dynamite goals. The puck movement on Marchand's power-play goal was jaw-dropping:

Coyle showed off some hands that Bruins fans haven't really seen since acquiring the winger ahead of the deadline:

Rask did this, somehow:

The Bruins for much of the night looked like a team that was capable of standing toe-to-toe with the best team in hockey. Yet a sequence of mental mistakes cost them on this night. That's the bad news for Boston. The good news is that the lessons that were learned appeared to have already set in just minutes after suffering the loss.

"Really the bottom line I thought tonight was our play away from the puck tonight in our zone, and it cost us," Patrice Bergeron told reporters.

"Third goal against was a tough one. I think after I scored, I might have gotten a little bit ahead of myself and I started joining the rush a little bit too much there," Brandon Carlo, who scored just his eighth career goal, said. "That kind of sucked there in the third to have that happen and get scored on. But overall, a really good learning experience."

"We have a lead like that, we've gotta push even more and do it the right way," Coyle lamented. "I think we let our foot off the gas a little bit. You can't do that against a team like that. Especially just mindless errors, having too many guys up in the play trying to -- I mean, for the right reasons, trying to score -- but we've gotta know the situation and have guys back. That team will make you play, and they did."

"One of those games where you let your guard down for a second," Rask explained, "they're definitely going to take advantage of it."

The Bruins on lost on Monday night. It was a game they had in their grasp, but one they let slip away. There's no way to sugarcoat that.

But in that loss, the Bruins learned that if they do wind up meeting Tampa again a month from now, with the addition of a few more healthy bodies and with a focus that eliminates some mental breakdowns in critical moments, they are more than capable of hanging with -- and potentially beating -- the best team in hockey.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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