BOSTON – The Boston Bruins are playing so well that they’re starting to concentrate on what goes wrong in their victories.
Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel and Michael Ryder scored in the opening 10:46 and the Bruins coasted to their 14th win in 16 games, 5-3 over the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but the only thing most of the players wanted to talk about afterward was how they didn’t play well after the opening period.
Zdeno Chara had a second-period, power-play goal and P.J. Axelsson added an empty-netter to help the Bruins win their fifth straight.
“We’re not playing the way we usually play against teams,” Chara said. “Just because we worked hard in the first period – we played a little too comfortable, I guess. Maybe we’re a little too confident.”
Boston, which scored twice on the power play, entered with the league’s best scoring percentage at home with the man advantage.
The Bruins, 10-1-1 at the TD Banknorth Garden this season, didn’t waste much time taking control. With Tampa Bay defenceman Phil Ranger off for slashing, Lucic, positioned at the top of the crease, redirected Dennis Wideman’s pass by goaltender Mike Smith at 6:44.
The Bruins made it 2-0 when Kessel’s shot caromed off Ranger’s stick and behind Smith at 9:29. Ryder scored on a wrist shot from the left circle just 1:17 later.
Tampa Bay called timeout to regroup after Boston’s fast start, and the Bruins may have relaxed.
“Maybe. It does matter. It shouldn’t,” Wideman said of a possible letdown. “That’s something that shouldn’t happen. You look at the elite teams like Detroit, when they get leads like that they keep coming at you.”
Boston coach Claude Julien agreed.
“Once we got a comfortable lead, we decided to get cute,” Julien said.
Adam Hall, Vincent Lecavalier and Paul Szczechura scored for the Lightning, who lost their eighth straight – including a 3-1 loss at home to the Bruins four days earlier.
“I don’t know if we’re a dumb team or we just don’t get it, or we don’t deserve to be in this league,” Smith said. “I mean, we’re making the same mistakes we talk about, game in and game out.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier the next few weeks for Tampa Bay, which plays six of its next seven at home.
“To me it’s an embarrassment when you have more than three or four individuals not ready to play,” Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said.
Szczechura scored with 17.2 seconds left after the Lightning pulled Smith for an extra skater, but Axelsson sealed it with 10 seconds left.
Kessel extended his point streak to 12 games (10 goals, five assists), the longest active in the league.
The Lightning had pulled to 3-1 when Hall, crashing the net, had Evgeny Artyukhin’s shot bounce off his body and behind goalie Tim Thomas.
Thomas, who entered the night with a league-best 1.83 goals-against average, made 26 saves and improved to 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts.
One of the few bright spots for Tampa Bay was a spectacular save by Smith on Axelsson’s second-period penalty shot.
Axelsson cut extremely wide, going near his own bench, skated in and attempted to fake out Smith, who reached back and made a glove stop on a backhand shot just before the puck crossed the red line.
With the Bruins skating with a two-man advantage, Chara one-timed a rising shot inside the right post with 1:17 left in the second.
Notes: Boston C Stephane Yelle collided with linesman Mark Shewchyk along the boards in the second period and headed straight for the locker room. He did not return. … Axelsson is 0-for-3 in his career on penalty shots. … Wideman got his 100th career point on Lucic’s goal. … Boston LW Marco Sturm missed his ninth straight game since suffering a concussion and D Aaron Ward was sidelined for his second consecutive game with a leg injury. … The Lightning reassigned D Matt Smaby to Norfolk (AHL) Sunday. … Boston recalled C Vladimir Sobotka on an emergency basis after the game.