After a long trip through the West Coast, it's clear the Boston Bruins thought it was good to be home.
Honoring captain Zdeno Chara for his 1,000th career NHL game, the cheers from the crowd at the TD Garden turned sour early when Steven Stamkos chased down a loose puck and snapped it past Tim Thomas from just below the right faceoff circle for his league-leading 54th goal this season.
The Bruins responded by turning up the pressure on the Lightning, forcing J.T. Wyman into a bad holding call. The Boston power play came up dry on their attempt, but the momentum had clearly swung to the home club. Swarming Dwayne Roloson, the Bruins' captain carried the puck through several defenders before attempting a hard stuff attempt. The veteran goaltender made the save, but the rebound would be cashed in by Shawn Thornton at the side of the crease.
Despite the Bruins doubling up on shots, 10-5, the teams stayed tied through the first intermission and deep into the second period, when a scrap between Keith Aulie and Gregory Campbell put the teams into four-on-four hockey.
Tyler Seguin danced around several Tampa defenders in their own zone before starting a cycle to David Krejci behind the net. Firing the puck back to Chara at the blue line, the all-star defenseman unleashed a massive shot, and an equally massive rebound off Roloson's pads. Dennis Seidenberg beat the Tampa D to the puck and fired at a wide-open net, giving the Bruins their first lead of the game with just under five minutes left in the period.
Heavily outshooting Tampa by a count of 23-8 by the end of two periods, the Bruins seemed primed to roll through the final period and solidify their hold on the Northeast Division, but their plan took a detour when Johnny Boychuk took a tripping call early in the period, putting Tampa back onto the power play.
Seconds into the man advantage, Victor Hedman found Steven Stamkos with time and space at the left faceoff circle, and moments later goal number 55 had pulled the Lightning back into the game.
Things appeared to go from bad to worse when the Bruins needed to kill a somewhat questionable high-sticking call on Tyler Seguin, but a successful PK would swing the momentum back in favor of the home crowd. The Bruins rode that wave into another long posession, finally paying off when Bryan Rolston wrapped around the net and threw the puck to Benoit Pouliot for a quick wrist shot, putting the Bruins back on top, though Roloson would argue unsuccessfully that Chris Kelly had interfered with him in the crease.
The Lightning attempted to counter by setting up Stamkos whenever the franchise forward hit the ice, and they nearly saw the strategy rewarded when a quick wrist shot hit iron, caromed off the back of Tim Thomas' legs, then slid towards the goal line, but the goaltender made a lunging glove save at the last moment.
Brad Marchand extended the Bruins' lead on a wrist shot through traffic, and the Lightning's hopes for a comeback took a major blow when Brian Lee took a delay of game penalty at the 16-minute mark, keeping his team on the defensive until well into the final minute of play.
Roloson finally was called to the bench for an extra attacker with just over 30 seconds to go in regulation, but Rich Peverley was the only player to take advantage, firing a long shot into the empty net.
The victory gives the Bruins a five-point cushion over the Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division and a game in hand over their nearest competition, while Tampa Bay's tragic number creeps ever closer.
Despite the victory, the Bruins had one note of concern after the game -- Adam McQuaid left the match after a collision behind his own net and didn't return, bringing concerns of another possible concussion for the defenseman.