BOSTON — One bounce broke two ties and put the Boston Bruins alone in second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
And with a seven-game winning streak, first place in the East could be next for the Bruins.
Milan Lucic scored the go-ahead goal with 3:42 left in the game, capitalizing on a lucky bounce and the Bruins broke a tie for second place in the East with Tampa Bay and extended their streak with a 2-1 win over the Lightning on Thursday night.
Lucic avoided a pileup in front of the net and was in just the right place when the puck deflected off an official’s skate to Lucic, who just had to get it over a mess of bodies for the game-winner.
“I was just trying to look for the loose puck because there was enough guys in front of the net,” said Lucic, who scored his 28th of the season. “I knew there was no real reason for me to get in there but just kind of wait around, see if something popped out and it did.”
The Bruins and Lightning entered the game with identical records at 37-19-7. The Bruins pulled a game ahead and clinched the tiebreaker with a 3-1 series win against the Lightning, who lead the Southeast Division. Boston is also just three points behind Eastern-leading Philadelphia, which lost at home to Toronto on Thursday.
Tim Thomas had 27 saves for the Bruins, who have allowed five goals in their past five games.
Steven Kampfer also scored for the Bruins, who were back at home after going unbeaten on a six-game road trip.
Coach Claude Julien said the Bruins have been playing with more patience lately, which has led to tighter defence and clutch scoring.
“Let’s not focus so much on the end result more than what we have to do to get it. Our guys were ready to do what we had to do,” Julien said. “I think the fact that we’re a physical team certainly gave us a little more space as well.”
Tampa Bay still leads the Southeast Division despite back-to-back 2-1 losses. The Lightning lost by the same score Wednesday at New Jersey and couldn’t capitalize on a strong comeback night by goalie Mike Smith, who was making his first start since December.
Smith, who has been rehabilitating a knee injury, stopped 26 shots for the Lightning, who were also without injured captain Vincent Lecavalier.
“The guys are gassed and we hung on. We hung on,” coach Guy Boucher said. “It’s very difficult to accept that we don’t deserve one point. We deserved one point yesterday. We deserved one point tonight — that would have been four points out of six on a tough road trip, so it didn’t turn our way.”
Eric Brewer scored for Tampa Bay, which will be back at home Saturday against Montreal.
Smith was making his first start in Boston since Dec. 2, when he was pulled after allowing five goals on 22 shots in an 8-1 loss. Smith was sharp this time, stopping several point-blank shots by Boston and keeping the Bruins from breaking the tie until Lucic found a loose puck and lifted it over a pileup of players in front of the Tampa Bay net late in the third period.
Lucic started the play with a centring pass to Nathan Horton, who was levelled right away as the pileup began. Tampa Bay never got control of the puck, which drifted right to Lucic at the left side of the net.
“They got an extra bounce and we didn’t,” Smith said.
David Krejci also got an assist on the goal, which decided a chippy game between two division leaders.
Brewer put the Lightning up 1-0 on a slap shot from inside the blue line with 15:56 left in the second period. It was the first goal as a member of the Lightning for Brewer, picked up Feb. 18 in a trade with St. Louis.
The lead barely lasted two minutes, when Kampfer blasted a slap shot by Smith off assists by Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, who were making their home debuts for the Bruins.
Then the game started to get nasty.
Steve Downie for Tampa Bay and Boston’s Shawn Thornton got 10-minute misconducts after Chris Kelly went crashing into Smith and the Lightning net. Each whistle after that was followed by a scrum, although none developed into an actual fight until Lucic and Brewer got their gloves off while the officials were separating other players.
Horton was heading to the penalty box already and Lucic was called for roughing and fighting, giving the Lightning a 5-on-3 for 1:53.
The Bruins snuffed the Lightning during the advantage, allowing only a couple of shots.
“I think that was the turning point right there,” Julien said. “Our guys did an outstanding job on that 5-on-3, where we didn’t give them much. We were patient. We didn’t start running around.”
Boston actually got a breakaway out of it when Horton picked up the puck after leaving the penalty box, but Smith stopped him with his right pad to keep it tied.
Notes: The Lightning were without captain Vincent Lecavalier, who was out with an undisclosed mid-body injury. … Boston’s Mark Recchi played his 1,635th game, tying him for sixth with Scott Stevens on the NHL’s all time games played list. … Tomas Kaberle, Kelly and Peverley, all picked up by the Bruins before the trade deadline, were making their home debuts for the Bruins. … Claude Julien coached his 310th game for the Bruins, tying him with Lynn Patrick for sixth in team history.