Haggerty: Bruins start to tap into full potential in Tampa win

Haggerty: Bruins start to tap into full potential in Tampa win
February 22, 2013, 10:30 am
Share This Post

TAMPA – One of the underlying themes for the Bruins this season has gone a little something like this: they’re off to an excellent start amid the weird circumstances of a 48-game shortened season, but they also aren’t close to fully realizing the awesome power of their fully-operational hockey club.

Like the Death Star blowing up Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, the Bruins finally realized that “fully-operational power” in an impressive 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Tampa Times Forum on Thursday night.

It’s an impressive two points considering how exhausted the Bruins players were in dealing with the conditions in Tampa. The Bruins knew the toughest game of the three-game road trip would be against a Lightning club that looks to be playoff caliber this season, but they were also coping with poor ice conditions in the Florida humidity and exhausting heat that had many B’s skaters looking wiped out between the second and third period.

There were so many complaints by the Bruins about the ice conditions over the last two days that it wasn’t all that surprising to see NHL ice guru Dan Craig presiding over things during Thursday’s morning skate at the Forum.

So to put all of that behind them and finish strong for victory in the final 20 minutes says plenty about the Black and Gold, and the elite level of hockey play they’re finally reaching a month into the season. Their coach, of course, found some nits to pick as all good hockey coaches do, but the result was undeniably strong against a top drawer Eastern Conference opponent with Steve Stamkos and Marty St. Louis flying all over the ice.  

“I know it was bad ice and all of that stuff, but I thought the effort was there,” said Claude Julien. “Considering the situation that it was really humid in this building and we’re not used to playing in those kinds of conditions. Our guys looked really tired after two periods.

“So we really wanted to stretch out the four lines and it was important to have everybody going for as long as they could. Effort-wise I have no complaints. As far as analyzing the game I thought we managed the puck a lot better in the third period than we did in the first two periods.”

The Bruins also stressed getting off to a good start against a Lightning team that likes to drop into a 1-3-1 trap if they get an early lead, and getting off to better starts in general. The Bruins had allowed opponents to score first on them in eight of the 13 games they’d played heading into Thursday night, and they changed all of that with goals from Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron in the first four minutes of the contest.

“Sometimes we struggle [in the first period] and it seems like this [Tampa] team scores in their own rink,” said Marchand. “They really build a lot of momentum off that. So we wanted to get the first to quiet the crowd a little bit. Luckily we got two there and we saved ourselves some trouble by winning after they came back at us.”

Horton had a pair of goals on a line that was functioning at its highest capacity after both Horton and Krejci had been a combined minus-4 in the previous two games. The active Horton led all skaters with six shots on net while Milan Lucic was an undeniable physical presence with six registered hits, and Krejci worked the cycle game down low in his quiet, heady way that’s such a key to that forward line’s play.

More importantly Horton, Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron finished off Boston’s best offensive chances in a way that they hadn’t through the first 13 games of the season. The Bruins are in the middle of the NHL pack in team offense while averaging 2.8 goals per game, but that number will go up if they show midseason goal-scoring touch as they did against the Lightning.

“It feels so much better if we’re playing with a two-goal [lead] or a three-goal [lead] instead of just one goal all the time or coming from behind,” said Nathan Horton. “Everybody has more fun and we kind of relax and play our game and play our style without thinking that if we get scored on we could lose a game or whatever.”

But it went beyond merely providing an offensive fireworks show for the Black and Gold. Tuukka Rask probably wasn’t too happy with himself about the Corey Conacher goal that slipped through his pads to tie the game in the second period, but the B’s goalie made a momentum-altering stop on Marty St. Louis that led to Brad Marchand’s game-winning score at the other end of the ice.

Patrice Bergeron picked up the rebound of Rask’s stop and fired ahead to Tyler Seguin that set everything into motion for the game-winning score as a nice, little transition play at the end of that line’s shift.

“To be honest I was about to go for a change and [Bergeron] made a nice play up to me and [Seguin]. It was a two-on-two at the end of the shift and after Seguin shot it bounded right to me in the slot,” said Marchand. “I just got it off quick. I don’t think [Lindback] saw it because I kind of shot it through a guy. But I’ll take it.”

The Bruins certainly didn’t get any help from the officials as the Lightning had three power plays to their single man advantage over the course of a hotly contested 60-minute hockey game. But the Boston penalty kill is the one that’s been operating at full capacity since the beginning of the season, and is snuffing out 94.4 percent of the power plays they come up against.

So now the Bruins are fourth in the Eastern Conference and tied with the Leafs for second in the division despite holding 3-4 games in hand on nearly every team that they’re chasing. The Black and Gold have also seemed to finally find that final offensive touch that eluded them early in the year.

Now it comes down to the Bruins consistently recreating efforts like Thursday night’s triumph over a talented Lightning bunch as Eastern Conference opponents quickly realize that Boston is one of the teams to beat in this short, sweet hockey season.