Bruins get the hang
Offense finally clicks; Tampa is held at bay
TAMPA - When you’re a young goalie like Tuukka Rask and your teammates spot you a 5-0 cushion, the last thing you expect to be doing in the final seconds of regulation is making a game-saving stop. But this season, things have rarely gone as expected for the Bruins.
A shellshocked Rask, who had seen four pucks enter his net, saw Andrej Meszaros, during six-on-five play late in the last minute, reach back to send a wrister on goal. Rask dropped into his butterfly to stop Meszaros’s shot, only to see the puck change direction at the last moment when Vincent Lecavalier got his blade on the attempt.
Instead of panicking, Rask first made sure to close off his five-hole. Once that was done, Rask stuck out his hips, straightened his back, and stood as tall as he could to smother the tip with 13 seconds remaining. Rask’s save preserved the Bruins’ 5-4 win before 15,826 at St. Pete Times Forum last night.
“It was a shot on the ice,’’ said Rask, who started for the fifth straight game and made 31 saves. “It’s different if he shoots it all the way to the blocker side, especially because he took it from the left side of me. Then you’d have to reach for it. But I didn’t have to do much. Just tried to keep all the holes closed.’’
With the win, their third straight, the Bruins vaulted over the Lightning into eighth place in the East. The teams have identical records (26-22-11), but the Bruins have won two of the three meetings this season.
“I’m happy with the win,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Those two points are so valuable right now. We’ve lost some games that we should have won. This one here, I think we deserved to win. But we certainly did everything we could to shoot ourselves in the foot and make it exciting. We did a lot of good things tonight. Some real bad mistakes. We have to learn, as a team, to control our games a lot better. If we can’t do it for 60 minutes, we’re going to get more of that.’’
As desperate as the Bruins are for wins, they’ll certainly accept last night’s victory. They only wished they had closed it out with more authority.
“We’ve got to try and stay positive,’’ said Milan Lucic, who recorded his first two-goal game of the season. “You’ve got to focus on the positive more than the negative. I think that’s the feeling around here right now. You’ve got to give them credit. They came out hard to finish off the game. They weren’t going to die. They showed a lot of character that way. We held them off enough and did what we needed to do to win.’’
What the Bruins did was pour four first-period pucks behind hot-as-a-pistol Antero Niittymaki (7-0-1, 1.09 goals-against average, .965 save percentage in his previous eight starts), chasing him from the game after 20 minutes. For good measure, they tucked one more shot behind relief netminder Mike Smith in the second.
Miroslav Satan kicked off the scoring binge at 4:24 of the first with a backdoor tap-in of a Marc Savard setup. Lucic doubled the lead when he got the shaft of his stick on a Michael Ryder half-slapper and redirected the puck past Niittymaki at 11:21.
Then Ryder, who had scored only once in nine games, netted the first of his two strikes following a skillful give-and-go with Blake Wheeler.
“Wheels threw it cross-ice to me,’’ Ryder said. “I got the blue line and tried to delay to give those guys a little time to catch up. Wheels cut behind me and I knew he’d have room, so I just gave it to him. I didn’t expect the pass back, but he found a hole.’’
Wheeler accelerated past his defender and spotted Ryder crashing the net. Ryder banged the puck home at 15:44. Less than two minutes later, Ryder scored again after finding the rebound of a Savard shot off the end boards and roofing the puck over Niittymaki at 17:19.
“I thought that line really played well,’’ Julien said. “They found each other.’’
At 4:53 of the second, Lucic finished off the barrage by getting a piece of a Zdeno Chara slapper and redirecting it past Smith, making it a 5-0 laugher.
Or so the Bruins thought.
Martin St. Louis kicked off the four-goal rally by tucking in the rebound of a Victor Hedman shot at 16:10 of the second. St. Louis made it 5-2 by scoring a power-play goal at 19:02.
At 11:09 of the third, agitator Steve Downie, who had gotten Chara so riled up in the second that the captain dropped his mitts and delivered several bare-knuckled pops (including a few lefts with his mangled pinkie), tipped a Hedman shot past Rask. Downie made it a one-goal game by scoring with 3:13 remaining.
“They did a great job of not laying down and battling back,’’ said Shawn Thornton, who helped spark the first-period outburst by fighting Matt Walker. “Credit to them. They had an unbelievable game. We knew they weren’t going to lay down. But I think we did a good job of hanging on. We’ll take the two points.’’