BOSTON – The Bruins couldn’t take advantage of the last-place Lightning to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Next up is the team that’s right on Boston’s heels. Mike Smith stopped 35 shots on Thursday night to end a personal four-game losing streak, leading Tampa Bay to a 3-1 victory over the Bruins and leaving Boston just one point ahead of eighth-place Philadelphia. The Flyers visit Boston on Saturday.
“At this point, no matter who you’re playing, it’s important,” Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward said. “We’ve started looking at things from the perspective that every minute counts.”
Jeff Halpern and Andreas Karlsson scored for Tampa Bay, and Vincent Lecavalier made it 3-1 on an empty-net goal with 7.8 seconds left. Halpern left late in the first period with a muscle strain in his back, playing briefly in the second period before leaving again.
Even with the win, the Lightning remained in last place in the Eastern Conference, with little hope of making the playoffs.
“It could have been very easy to just kind of call it a year and not work hard,” defenceman Dan Boyle said. “We know our playoff chances are over but we want to prove to ourselves and the guys who are going to be here next year we’re not going to accept another losing season again.”
Smith, acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline, stopped Phil Kessell on a second-period breakaway, then finished off the win despite losing a screw near his heel and losing the edge on his skate. He had allowed 13 goals in his previous four games.
“He answered the proper way,” coach John Tortorella said. “We defended very well but when we needed some saves Smitty was able to come up with them. He stood in there but I thought we did a very good job of limiting the quality scoring chances.”
All-star Tim Thomas, who sat out the last three games, stopped 23 shots for the Bruins, who have a five-point lead over ninth-place Buffalo.
“All of us want to win,” he said. “To win, you’ve got to get goals, and we’re trying everything we can think of.
Tampa Bay held Boston scoreless for 47:57 – about the length of an NBA game – until Chuck Kobasew tipped Marco Sturm’s slap shot from the point into the net to make it 2-1. It was the sixth goal in six games for the Bruins, who have won just one of their last seven games.
Not counting shootouts, the Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in eight straight games.
“It’s down to crunch time, and we can’t let this go on too much longer,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “When you don’t score goals, every little mistake you make looks a lot bigger than it should be. … “You’ve got to find a way to score goals. It’s as simple as that.”
Halpern won the faceoff after Peter Schaefer went off for hooking, and the puck went out to the point and over to Filip Kuba. He let loose a slap shot that was deflected into the net by Halpern to make it 1-0 – just seven seconds into the power play.
Karlsson made it 2-0 in the second period on a breakaway.
Notes: Lecavalier played in his 700th NHL game. … Bruins D Zdeno Chara missed his third consecutive game with an undisclosed upper body injury. … Kobasew tied his career high with his 20th goal of the season. … It was Kuba’s 200th NHL point.