TORONTO — Brad Marchand says it’s no coincidence the Boston Bruins are starting to look like the team that led the NHL regular season with 100 points and 44 wins.
After floating through the preliminary seeding round a few weeks ago, the President’s Trophy-winning Bruins have flipped the switch now that the real playoffs have begun.
Jaroslav Halak stopped 35 shots to win his fourth straight game since starter Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs, and the Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 to open their second-round series on Sunday night.
Marchand and regular-season leading scorer David Pastrnak had a goal and assist each, and Charlie Coyle also scored for a Bruins team that has won five of six since opening the playoffs losing all three round-robin seeding games.
“I think maybe there was a little bit of concern from some people after the first four games, but for the teams that weren’t fighting for a playoff position and playing for standings, those games really didn’t mean a whole lot,” Marchand said. “We obviously buckled down once the playoffs started and when the games matter. That’s kind of how this group is when it’s time to play.”
The Bruins got off to a fast start, weathered a second period in which they were outshot 18-7, and wound up hanging in a game Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman scored twice in the final 11:10.
The remainder of the credit when to Halak. The 35-year-old became the fourth Bruins goalie 35 or older to win four or more straight postseason games — and first since Tim Thomas won five in a row in 2009.
“They had their chances, and Jaro’s there to shut the door on a number of good chances to keep us ahead,” Coyle said. “It could’ve been a totally different game.”
Both goals Halak allowed — the last coming with 1:14 let and the Lightning net empty for an extra attacker — came off shots Hedman floated from just inside the blue line and deflected in off Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
Hedman blamed the Lightning’s sluggish first period on the loss.
“We were obviously disappointed with the way we came out in the first. It’s been a couple of days since we played, but at the same time, we expect more out of ourselves,” Hedman said. “It’s on us in that room to be better come next game.”
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots in a game that was supposed to feature a match up of two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists before Rask abruptly opted out to be with his family on Aug. 15. Vasilevskiy set a franchise record in making his 37th career playoff start, one more than former University of Maine goalie Ben Bishop.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series being played in Toronto is Tuesday.
The roles were reversed in a meeting of Atlantic Division rivals and the NHL’s top offensive and defensive teams. With 243 goals scored, Tampa Bay led the league in scoring for a third straight year, while the Bruins allowed a league-low 167.
Coyle opened the scoring with 68 seconds left in the first period, when he was parked in the right circle and deflected in Brandon Carlo’s shot from the point over Vasilevskiy’s right shoulder. Carlo’s shot otherwise appeared to be sailing wide of the net.
The Bruins went up 2-0 at the 4:34 mark of the second period, and with Hedman off for tripping. David Krejci patiently skated the puck up the right boards before threading a pass through the middle to Pastrnak, who one-timed it in under Vasilevskiy’s blocker.
Marchand then sealed the win, scoring 1:17 into the third period, and set up on a play that began with teammate Patrice Bergeron stripping Ryan McDonagh of the puck from behind in the Lightning zone.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper might not have liked how his team started, but he was impressed by how it battled back.
“We were probably lucky we were only down one going into the second period, but it was really unfortunate that we were down two going into the third just by the chances we had,” Cooper said. “But you can’t start games the way we did.”
Halak proved to be the difference with his best save coming with about four minutes left in the second period. With the Lightning in on a 3-on-1 break, he managed to get a piece of his glove on the puck to foil Barclay Goodrow, who was set up alone to the right of the net.
NOTES: McDonagh’s status is uncertain after leaving the game midway through the third period. Cooper would only say he was unfit to return. … With the assist, Krejci extended his point streak to seven games in which he has combined for three goals and seven assists. … D Zdeno Chara appeared in his 146th playoff game with Boston, moving ahead of Wayne Cashman for second on franchise list. Ray Bourque is first with 180. … The Bruins announced during the first intermission signing now playoff backup goalie Dan Vladar to a three-year, $2.25 million contract extension.
Game 2 is Tuesday at 7 p.m.