Lightning take 3-1 series lead, push Bruins to brink of elimination

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are one step closer to yet another appearance in the Eastern Conference Final.

Thanks to their 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of their Second Round series on Saturday afternoon, the Lightning were able to take a 3-1 series lead and push their divisional rival to the brink of elimination. The Lightning will have an opportunity to close out the series on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN; Livestream).

Ondrej Palat was the big star for Tampa Bay on Saturday with a pair of goals (extending his current goal-scoring streak to three games) to lead the offense, while starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was outstanding in net by turning aside 29 of the 30 shots he faced.

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Palat has turned out to be a major factor in this series. Along with Saturday’s big game, he also scored the overtime winner in Game 2 to even the series and then recorded a goal and an assist in Tampa Bay’s Game 3 blowout win. He now has six points (three goals, three assists) in the series.

This game really started to slip away for Boston midway through the second period.

Trailing by a goal, the Bruins had started to tilt the ice in their favor and seemed to be closing in on a potential game-tying goal. They not only did not get that goal, but the deficit was doubled when goalie Jaroslav Halak gave up a soft goal on a long-distance shot from Palat that probably should have been stopped.

Just a few minutes later Bruins forward Nick Ritchie was given a five-minute penalty for boarding Yanni Gourde on a hit that should get an extra look from the league.

The Lighting capitalized on that power play when Victor Hedman scored a fluky goal that beat Halak thanks to a crazy bounce off a Bruins defender.

With that, the Lightning look to be in complete control of the series. They have won three games in a row and outscored the Bruins by a 10-2 margin over the past two games. That stretch gives them a 9-3 record in the bubble. That would be an impressive record on its own and with no other context around it. But when you consider they have played this entire time without their franchise player (Steven Stamkos), and then lost one of their top defenders (Ryan McDonagh), it becomes even more impressive.

The Lightning have taken a lot of heat in recent years for the way they have been eliminated in the playoffs (especially last year’s First Round sweep against the Columbus Blue Jackets) and been unable to break through to win a Stanley Cup with this core. But even without that championship yet they still have more playoff wins since the start of the 2014-15 season than any other team in the league, and if they can get one more win in this series against Boston it would push them to the Eastern Conference Final for the fourth time in six years. This is a powerhouse team that has impact players all over the lineup, great depth, and is starting to click on all cylinders.

The Bruins are perfectly capable of winning three games in a row, but they are going to have their work cut out for them against this Lightning team the way it is going right now.

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins (TBL leads series 3-1)

Series preview
Game 1:
 Bruins 3, Lightning 2 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 4, Bruins 3 (OT) (recap)
Game 3: Lightning 7, Bruins 1 (recap)
Game 4: Lightning 3, Bruins 1
Game 5: Monday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 6: Wednesday, Sept. 2 – TBD
*Game 7: Thursday, Sept. 3 – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.