BOSTON — The Bruins took care of business while simultaneously keeping a potential playoff opponent reeling on Saturday at TD Garden.
The Bruins gutted out a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to capture the Atlantic Division title — a foregone conclusion for a long time now — and handed the fourth straight defeat to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
Patrice Bergeron and Garnet Hathaway scored a goal each in the first two periods and Linus Ullmark (26 saves) shut the door the rest of the way. Ullmark made a huge save on a Nikita Kucherov slapper in the waning minutes to preserve the lead and win.
Losers of their previous three games, the Lightning attempted to set a tone off the opening faceoff with some old school nastiness with Pat Maroon fighting Hathaway and Jakob Lauko tussling with Ross Colton. Maroon started jousting with Hathaway before the first puck drop and they were both spoken to, but once play started, it was a yard sale with gloves and sticks on the ice all over the place.
The Bolts would give the Bruins the first four power plays of the game but, thanks to the Bruins’ brain-locked PP, they sustained only minimal damage. With Maroon back in the box for yapping at referee Chris Rooney, the Bruins took a 1-0 lead at 6:48 when Bergeron redirected a Brad Marchand pass past Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 27th of the year.
But not only did the Bruins not take control of the game with their PP, it allowed the Bolts back in the game.
With Tanner Jeannot serving a double-minor for high-sticking David Krejci, the Bruins fiddled with the puck in the own end and then got stung with a short-handed goal at 9:30 when Victor Hedman’s slapper ramped up off Charlie McAvoy’s stick and past Ullmark’s glove hand.
The Bruins had a 10-5 shot advantage but Vasilevskiy appeared to be on his game. He preserved the tie game when he made a terrific glove save on a Lauko chance from the bottom of he left circle.
In the second period, it was Tampa’s turn to squander a golden opportunity. With Brandon Carlo already in the box for tripping, McAvoy went off for high-sticking, giving the Bolts a 5-on-3 for 1:10 with two of the Bruins’ key penalty killers off the ice. They got nothing out of it.
The Bruins then regained the lead with 2:28 left in the period on a quintessential fourth line goal. Lauko and Hathaway battled with in the corner for puck and it eventually squirted up the boards. Tomas Nosek got to it and mushed it up to Matt Grzelcyk at the left point. Grzelcyk’s point shot produced a fat rebound off Vasilevskiy and Hathaway banged it home to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead going into the third.