TAMPA, Fla. — More than likely, the road to the Stanley Cup in the Eastern Conference is going to go through Tampa Bay. With just 14 regulation losses following Monday night’s 5-4 comeback win against the Bruins, the Lightning have had — and done — virtually everything right in the 2018-19 NHL season.
The Bruins were a thorn in their side the last time they faced off at the end of February, when the B’s were playing their best hockey during their point streak. They faced the Bolts again Monday playing some of their best hockey of the year with another four-game win streak, and carried a 4-2 lead into the third period before falling short.
Though there still are six more regular-season games to get through and a first round that almost certainly will feature the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning are a likely opponent for the Bruins beyond the Eastern quarterfinals.
That’s not completely lost on the group.
“You go down through their lineup ... they have a ton of weapons,” Brad Marchand said. “If you want to compete with them, you gotta be ready to not shut down one or two guys, but four or five.”
The Lightning knocked the Bruins out of the postseason a year ago, sparking what’s been a developing rivalry between the two clubs. The Bruins handed the Bolts one of their few losses, coming at the end of a stretch of three games in four nights for Tampa.
Still, a result is a result, and it was another chapter in the clubs’ developing animosity.
“If you’re going to have a rivalry, you have to win your share of games,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
The Lightning have the perfect storm for a deep postseason run; they score more than everyone, keep pucks out of the net, succeed a man up and kill penalties.
It’s a great formula for playoff success, but the Bruins have some skill of their own, too, and don’t plan on making things easy in the East.
“You can never expect a bad game from them,” Marchand said. “If they have a bad game it’s because the puck didn’t bounce their way. You have to expect them to come out hard and be at their best. If we want to compete with them, we have to do the same.”
Depth scoring a boost
The marker of the success on the recent Bruins road trip and winning streak has been depth scoring. Given that David Pastrnak made his return at the start of it, the team hasn’t put all the scoring burden on his line.
“It’s massive,” Jake DeBrusk said. “That’s the focus of every single team and I think our team this year. Guys feeling good about their games, that’s the biggest thing heading into playoffs. Giving each other confidence, it’s always nice to see other guys step up and contribute and make some nice plays.”
Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) wasn’t ready to go after practicing in full Sunday. He’s more likely to play tonight against the Rangers at TD Garden.
Torey Krug (concussion) also has a chance to play tonight. Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller (upper-body injuries) won’t be ready to go.
Cassidy did believe all the injured players, sans Sean Kuraly (broken hand) will get in regular-season action before the playoffs.