By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins beat the Lightning during the regular season, which theoretically was a good thing for Boston as the two teams opened a playoff series last week. But perhaps the Bruins beat the Lightning a little too soundly during those regular-season matchups.
That’s at least the type of credit that Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wanted to heap upon the Bruins after Tampa Bay eliminated Boston with a Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon in Tampa.
“All right, I’ll tell you — I guess I can say it now. Boston set the bar for us,” Cooper said after the Lightning’s 3-1 win in Game 5. “And we played them three times late in the year, and the first two times we played them, they literally manhandled us. The scores were tight, the first one was 3-2 and then they beat us here, and it was men amongst boys. And we knew if we were going to go anywhere when we made the playoffs — or if we made the playoffs — that we had to be as good as Boston. And it happened. We beat them 4-0 [in the final regular-season meeting], and that gave us a little bit of confidence. Well, it gave us a lot of confidence.
“But they set a bar for us to be better. And ultimately, we carried that through into this playoffs round.”
One of those games was a signature win for the Bruins. It came on March 29, and it was a night that saw the Bruins beat the Lightning on the scoreboard and beat them up on the ice. Even Tuukka Rask got involved. The win put the Bruins in first place, but that was a position they wouldn’t hold for very long. The Bruins had a chance to climb back into that spot when the teams met again a few days later, but the Lightning applied the lessons they had learned and won soundly, 4-0.
As it turned out, it was that final regular-season meeting and not the previous three Bruins victories that would portend the outcome of the playoff series. The Bruins won Game 1 by a comfortable 6-2 margin, but the Lightning rattled off three straight wins — two of which came in Boston — to end the Bruins’ season.
It won’t come as any consolation to the Bruins or their fans, but Cooper said the Lightning would not have gotten to where they currently are if not for those beatings handed out by Boston.
“I’ll be honest, I’m crediting the Boston Bruins for a lot of this by waxing us during the regular season,” Cooper said. “And we tried to chase them, and we wanted to match them. And we did.”