BOSTON – Zdeno Chara is still going strong more than 1,000 games into his brilliant career.
Boston’s star defenceman was honoured before the game for reaching that milestone then assisted on three goals to help the surging Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Tuesday night.
“Everything he did was simple, efficient, and he was rock solid,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Obviously, this was a special night for him and he wanted to make sure that everything he did was good and positive.”
Chara’s last assist came on Benoit Pouliot’s 14th goal of the season that broke a 2-2 tie at 11:34 of the third period.
“It’s obviously very nice to get that recognition and a ceremony,” Chara said, “but when that ceremony is over, you have to focus on the game and you’ve just got to be ready.”
The Lightning’s three-game winning streak ended. The Bruins won their third straight game despite two goals by Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 55. They’re 5-1 since losing four straight.
“The last month or so it’s been hard but it seems like we are on the right track,” Chara said. “We finished off on the right note that West Coast road trip.”
Chara reached the 1,000-game mark on Saturday night in a 4-2 road victory over the Los Angeles Kings and wrapped up the road trip on Sunday night with a goal in a 3-2 win at the Anaheim Ducks.
“He’s the toughest guy to play against in the league, bar none,” said Brian Rolston, who also assisted on Pouliot’s goal.
The Bruins moved five points ahead of the second-place Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division with 93 points and a game in hand.
Pouliot broke the tie even though teammate Chris Kelly was in the crease. The officials consulted and allowed the goal.
“When it’s scored on you, you like to see them huddle,” Julien said, “but when you’re the team that scores, you don’t like to see that huddle.”
Kelly had been pushed into the crease by a Tampa Bay player while goalie Dwayne Roloson was outside the crease to the right. With Kelly in his way, Roloson couldn’t get back to cover the other side of the net where Pouliot put his shot.
But Roloson seemed to take it in stride after the game.
“These (officials) are making decisions in split seconds,” he said. “They’re human and they make mistakes and you can’t really dwell on it.”
Brad Marchand gave Boston a two-goal lead with his 26th goal at 15:50 and Rich Peverley scored into an empty net with seven seconds remaining.
Stamkos had put the injury-depleted Lightning, almost certain to miss the playoffs, ahead on their first shot. Milan Lucic lost the puck to Martin St. Louis, who passed it ahead to Stamkos. He scored on a wrist shot under goalie Tim Thomas’ stick side.
“No one is giving up,” Stamkos said. “Guys have gotten called up from, the American League and are stepping up and trying to prove that they can be an everyday NHL player and that’s all we can ask from them.”
Boston tied it 1-1 at 10:54 of the first period on Shawn Thornton’s fifth goal. Chara carried the puck along the blue line from the left side to the right then skated in toward the net. He shot from close range, Roloson made the save and Thornton put in the rebound.
The Bruins had gone ahead at 15:05 of the second period. Chara took a hard shot from the right side of the blue line. Roloson made the save and steered the puck to the left circle, where Dennis Seidenberg unleashed a quick shot for his fourth goal of the season.
Stamkos tied the game 2-2 on a power play at 5:46 of the third period. Victor Hedman passed the puck from the middle of the blue line to Stamkos, who one-timed it past Thomas from the left circle.
NOTES: Stamkos has five goals in four games against the Bruins this season. … Roloson played his seventh straight game. … Of Chara’s 1,002 NHL games, 472 were with Boston. … With two assists Tuesday, St. Louis has two goals and eight assists in his last 11 games. … Rolston has three goals and nine assists in seven games. … The Lightning finished their ninth set of back-to-back games. They’re 6-3 in the first game and 4-5 in the second.