TAMPA - With seemingly every stride he took toward the Tampa Bay net last night in the third period, Glen Metropolit was hooked, jabbed, and prodded by Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle.
Even though Metropolit was hooked practically from Tampa to Clearwater, perhaps even drawing a penalty shot on the play, the center wasn't about to go down or cough up the puck.
Instead, Metropolit recognized that P.J. Axelsson was trailing the play. So, when he could fight off Boyle's attack no longer, Metropolit laid the puck back for Axelsson, who stepped into his shot and jacked a riser over the glove of goalie Johan Holmqvist at 18:56, good for a shorthanded strike and the capper on the Bruins' 5-3 win before 20,519 at St. Pete Times Forum.
With the victory, the Bruins concluded their five-game road trip, the longest re maining stretch away from home this season, having claimed 9 of 10 maximum points.
"What a great road trip for us," said Metropolit.
While Glen Murray netted a pair of goals, including the winner only 17 ticks into the third period, it was the timely goaltending of Alex Auld (25 saves) that kept the last-place Lightning from scoring the upset.
In the second period, with his Lightning down, 2-1, top-line winger Martin St. Louis slipped behind Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman for a clear look at the goal. But Auld waited for St. Louis to make the first move, and when the forward snapped a wrist shot, the netminder snatched the puck with his glove at 9:30.
A little more than three minutes later, after forward Michel Ouellet had tied the game at 2, St. Louis threatened again. This time, St. Louis picked the pocket of Aaron Ward at the Bruins' blue line as the defenseman was starting the breakout. St. Louis zoomed toward the net and fired a half-slapper. But Auld had his glove at the ready once more, plucking the puck out of the air at 12:46.
Auld hadn't started a game since Feb. 12, when he lost a 3-2 decision to Carolina. But Auld was rewarded last night for his relief performance of Tim Thomas Thursday, when he entered against Florida in the third period and didn't allow a single puck to get behind him, backstopping the Bruins to a 5-4 shootout victory.
Last night, Auld let in one goal he should have stopped - a power-play wrister by winger Vaclav Prospal that dribbled between his pads at 17:43 of the third period - but was otherwise solid, making his case to be in the mix for the upcoming grind (18 games in 34 days starting with Tuesday's match against Ottawa).
"It's been a while since I could string a couple wins together," said Auld. "Obviously, getting that last win in relief was huge. Getting the call today was big.
"I think that just shows the team concept we have here - two guys who can play. On any given night, we have the confidence of the coaching staff that whoever's in can win. That's going to help us down the stretch here. We've got a lot of games coming up and both of us have to be going."
Confidence was a big reason the Bruins' power play, on fire entering the match (4 for 8 in the last two games), clicked two more times last night. In the first period, after the first unit encountered a rare failure, the second wave beat Holmqvist for the Bruins' first goal. Milan Lucic, after taking a cross-ice pass from Phil Kessel, used defenseman Filip Kuba as a screen and whacked a slap shot over the glove of Holmqvist (23 saves) at 14:29.
Then in the second period, with Boyle (delay of game) and Kuba (hooking) going to the box within a 10-second span, the Bruins made the three-man Tampa Bay penalty-killing unit pay. Holmqvist got a pad on Chara's one-timer from the right point, but the puck caromed into the slot for Murray, who backhanded the rebound into the net at 18:25, breaking a 2-2 tie.
On the other side, the Bruins killed six of seven power plays while scoring the late shortie.
"It's good that the specialty teams stepped up," said Metropolit. "The PP had been struggling at the beginning of the trip, but they came through for us. The PK stepped up as well."
The Bruins remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, 3 points ahead of the ninth-place Islanders and Flyers. Six of their next seven games will be at TD Banknorth Garden, where the Bruins are a pedestrian 14-12-3.
"Hopefully, this road trip will give us a little bit of life so we can go home and give our fans at least a better showing than we have," said coach Claude Julien. "That means maybe not trying to do too much. Stick with the game plan and do the things that have given us success. That will be the key."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.