Boston Bruins First Place Battle

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 29: Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) tries to stop Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) during a game between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 29, 2018, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Lightning 4-2. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 at home on Thursday, the Boston Bruins had taken over first place in the Eastern Conference. Then one day later, the Lightning reclaimed it with a 7-3 win over the New York Rangers and to lead Boston by one point. The next afternoon, the Bruins took over again following a 5-1 win against the Florida Panthers. While the Bruins have one more point and one game in hand over the Lightning, the top spot does not comfortably belong to either team just yet.

Boston Bruins First Place Battle

Thursday’s game between the Bruins and Lightning provided the grit of a Stanley Cup Playoff game. The Lightning had been in control of the Atlantic Division since mid-October, when the Bruins hadn’t even played 10 games yet. From there, they ran and never looked back. But Boston, who had taken a point in the game against Winnipeg two days earlier, were just one point behind Tampa entering their game.

Tim Schaller and David Pastrnak both scored in the final minute of the first, but the goals were not the main attraction that night. After pushing a Bruin into the net, goaltender Tuukka Rask went after Cory Conacher in an attempt to defend his teammate. After seeing this, Andrei Vasilevskiy skated down into the Boston zone looking to fight Rask. The referees did not let the two go at it, but the atmosphere changed from that moment on.

Play became entirely more physical and even Pastrnak, Boston’s second-leading scorer, fought Dan Girardi in the third period to defend a hit made on Patrice Bergeron that he disliked.

The game closed out with an empty-net goal and the Bruins stealing two points from the Lightning, leapfrogging them in the standings for the top spot in the Eastern Conference for a short period of time.

“It was a playoff game. It was fun,” Rask said in a post-game interview.

As if the series wasn’t entertaining enough, the two teams still have one more game left to battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. On Tuesday, the season series will conclude in Tampa as the Bruins look to complete a season sweep of the Lightning and create a larger lead in the standings.

What’s Next for Boston

Winning the top spot would help Boston in two ways. First, the Bruins would have the momentum against a typically unstoppable Lightning team. And although they would not meet in the first round, it could be a potential second-round matchup. Secondly, if they were to take first place, Boston would more than likely get a matchup against the New Jersey Devils – a team they have dominated for the past few years, taking all four of their last four games against them.

The bigger picture for the Bruins is that their depleted roster is grinding for wins without some key players like Zdeno Chara, Rick Nash, and Charlie McAvoy. With core players back for the playoffs, any team that stands in their way will face a powerhouse Big Bad Bruins team.

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