TAMPA — After 40 minutes on Thursday night, the Bruins had a 3-2 lead over the Lightning. But they had a problem. Zdeno Chara, arguably their most important penalty killer, would be in the box for 1:36 to start the third period.
Tampa Bay rolls out a ridiculous No. 1 power-play unit: Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, and Sami Salo.
The way the Bruins have been killing penalties, however, they merely shrug at such situations.
“We weren’t really overthinking it,” Andrew Ference, one of the regular penalty killers, said of the chatter during the second intermission. “It’s been going well so far this year. We’re playing in unison. It’s not like a couple forwards doing their job, then a couple [defensemen] doing their job. All the guys are really reading off each other well this year.”
It would have been a different game had the Lightning scored, but the Bruins killed off the penalty. About a minute later, Nathan Horton netted his second goal of the game to give the Bruins a two-goal lead. The Bruins then played shutdown defense to claim a 4-2 win before 19,204 at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“That was what we talked about before coming out in the third — that we had to get a big kill here and manage to stay ahead,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Not play on our heels, then extend the lead. Our guys responded well to that. The PK against a pretty good power play did a great job. I thought until the last power play when we won the draw, we had managed to not let them spend too much time in our own end. So, good job by the PK again.”
Horton’s second goal was straight out of Thomas Vanek’s textbook. After some crisp perimeter passing by David Krejci and Dougie Hamilton, Chara settled the puck at the point. Lightning goalie Anders Lindback moved out to challenge Chara’s shot.
But instead of shooting, Chara made a slap pass to Horton at the left circle. Horton tipped the puck from a sharp angle — one of Vanek’s trademark skills — for his second of the night. Before the game, Horton had fiddled with the curve of his blade.
“My stick’s been breaking a lot, so I’ve been trying different curves,” he said. “Keep it fun, keep it interesting. Probably do the same thing the next game to make the same curve.”
Horton didn’t hesitate on his first goal, at 1:11 of the first. Lindback (22 saves) left a big rebound after stopping a Hamilton shot. Horton had entered the night with only one goal in the last seven games. Horton (season-high six shots) ended that streak with a decisive snapper into the net.
“That’s what you want to see more from him — that powerful winger,” said Julien. “When he wants to play, he’s one of the elite right wingers in the league when he’s on top of his game. He’s got so much potential. We know that. He went through some tough times with that concussion. Hopefully, we get him back healthy and get some consistency out of his game.”
The Bruins have killed off 94.4 percent of opposing power plays, the best mark in the league by nearly five percentage points.
Their centers (Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley) win draws to start the kill. The wingmen pressure the puck. The defensemen keep tight gaps and give Tuukka Rask good looks at most shots. When the occasional puck gets through (the Lightning had just three power-play shots), Rask turns it aside.
“There’s no hesitation with what you’re supposed to do,” Ference said. “It’s the same as five on five. When you’re playing well and defending well, there’s just no herky-jerky, guys thinking too much or reading off each other too much. It just flows. It’s pretty obvious to see when you’re clicking.”
The two-goal swing — the penalty kill prevented Tampa from making it a 3-3 game, then Horton gave the Bruins a 4-2 advantage — was the second of the night.
In the second period, after the Lightning wiped out a two-goal deficit, Tampa nearly pulled ahead. St. Louis pulled away for a partial breakaway on Rask. But Rask (24 saves) punched out St. Louis’s snap shot with his blocker. The Bruins cleared the puck and sprinted the other way.
At the other end, the Tampa defense blocked Tyler Seguin’s attempt. But the puck landed on Brad Marchand’s stick. Lindback tried to reposition himself. But before Lindback could scoot over, Marchand whipped the puck into the net at 13:58, giving the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
“I don’t think he really saw it,” said Marchand, who has a team-leading nine goals. “I kind of shot through the guy there. I don’t know if he really saw it, but I’ll take it.”