BOSTON – The last time Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston did not play as a line for the Boston Bruins was in Tampa Bay on March 13, when the Lightning romped Boston 6-1.
Since then, that trio of veteran forwards turned into the Bruins' hottest line. Tuesday night, that line helped the Bruins get past their rivals from last year's Eastern Conference Final.
Rolston set up Pouliot for the game-winning goal with 8:26 remaining regulation to run that line's point total to 28 in the last seven games in the Bruins' 5-2 victory at the TD Garden.
"Maybe we weren't as effective as we were the last couple games, but we managed get one at the end there," said Pouliot, who now has five game-winning goals among his 14 on the season. "It was a huge play by Kells and Rolly on the forecheck, and when you've got a guy high and find a spot somewhere, anything can happen."
Rolston, who now has a seven-game point streak (3 goals, 9 assists), admitted he was trying a wraparound shot when the puck instead slid out to Pouliot wide-open in the slot. It was a fortuitous bounce for a unit that's been earning a lot of breaks with hard forechecking, crisp passes and speed. And Rolston has sort of led the charge.
"I think we just have good chemistry together, that's about it," said Rolston, who was acquired from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline after tallying just nine points in 49 games while averaging 14:10 of ice time per game. "I've produced over my career and you know whatever happened in Long Island happened in Long Island, and it's past that now."
Steven Stamkos ran his League-leading goal total on the season to 55 with a pair of scores. He almost singlehandedly kept the Lightning in the game despite being outshot all night for a final tally of 38-18 in favor of Boston. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson, making his fourth straight start and carrying a three-game winning streak, did his part as well. He finished with 33 saves, including a huge stop on a Shawn Thornton breakaway late in the first period.
"(Roloson) kept us in the game," said Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis. "We had opportunities, obviously, we hit the post there, and then it’s a 3-3 game. You turn around and then it’s 4-2. It was a much closer game I felt than the result. Obviously we got outshot pretty bad, they are a tough team to play against especially in their barn. They get the match-ups they want. They are a very disciplined team. You have to give credit where it's due. They played a good game, but we still had a chance there. We were close, but not close enough."
The night started with a brief ceremony to celebrate Boston captain Zdeno Chara's 1,000th NHL game, which he played last Saturday in Los Angeles. The defenseman received several gifts from the League and his team, and then he paid them back with a three-assist performance. After Stamkos put the Lightning on the scoreboard first 5:03 into the game, Chara created Thornton's tying goal with a dangle around the Tampa Bay zone and then a drive to the net. Thornton banged in a rebound.
Dennis Seidenberg scored a second-period goal off a long rebound of a Chara slap shot. After Stamkos had tie the game at 2 early in the third period, Chara earned the second assist on the Pouliot goal.
Chara was plus-3 with six shots on net in 24:26 of ice time.
"With how (the Lightning) play, they don't give up a ton and they always sit back and it's tough to break up their box," said Boston forward Brad Marchand, who scored the team's fourth goal. "With a guy like him, who's very gifted, he seems to know the right time to jump in and create an opportunity like he did tonight."
Lightning coach Guy Boucher praised his team's effort. The club was already riddled by injuries to key skaters and two goaltenders when it arrived in the Hub late Monday night after a road victory against Philadelphia.
"We gave everything. Guys couldn't breathe on the bench anymore," said Boucher. "(We) played last night, the other team is waiting for you, they've got basically their entire team playing for them. And it's a big night ... it's Chara’s night and Chara was responsible for their two first goals and played well. I think that our guys hung on and, you know, 2-2 and then you got 3-2 late in the game and Stamkos hits the post. Half an inch inside and it's 3-3. Maybe we get a different ending. You know, when we're trailing, you've got to push the pace and we opened it up a little bit and it cost us."
For the first time since December, the Bruins are on a three-game winning streak and have won five out of six -- this after their first four-game losing streak in two years. They have six more games to continue their positive momentum into the playoffs.
"Yeah, it's been one of those things that last month or so ... it's been hard, but it seems like we're on the right track," said Chara. "We don't want to see anybody take any steps back now, and we finished off on the right note that West Coast road trip. I thought we were moving a little bit slower than we should have, but I think that's being understandable. But it is big ... any time at this point of the season you want to get as many points as possible and play well, and like I've been saying for the last two weeks, we want to go into the playoffs with our game on the right track and be ready for the playoffs."