Dan Girardi scored 3:18 into overtime to give Tampa Bay a 4-3 victory over Boston on Friday night in a game that featured more face-licking from Brad Marchand but left the Lightning with a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals as they return to Florida for a potential clincher in Game 5.
"It’s going to be the hardest game of the series, and it always is," said Tampa Bay wing Ryan Callahan, who was swabbed by Marchand’s tongue in the second period — the second straight opponent to complain about the tactic by the Bruins’ forward.
"It’s unfortunate that he goes that low to do that, but doesn’t take us off our game," Callahan said. "Hopefully, the league looks at it. I don’t know if there is discipline for spitting in someone’s face, but to me it’s worse if not the same."
Tampa Bay jumped ahead 2-0 for the second straight game. But this time Boston answered with three straight goals, including a short-handed score by Patrice Bergeron — his second of the game — to break a third-period tie.
Steven Stamkos tied it 3-all with seven minutes left in regulation after Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy turned the puck over behind the Boston net after he appeared to be pulled down from behind. Girardi ended it when he got a stick on a pass from Alex Killorn that was deflected off Brian Gionta’s skate in the crease.
A two-time NHL goal-scoring champion, Stamkos had just one goal in the playoffs before adding an empty-netter in Game 3.
"It was like Stam said, ‘I’ve had enough,"’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It was just a matter of time, but we needed him, and he was there for us."
Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov also scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 25 saves.
Tuukka Rask stopped 28 shots for the Bruins. Torey Krug, who was helped off the bench to the locker room in the third period and did not finish the game, had a pair of assists, as did Marchand.
But Marchand — whose nickname "Little Ball of Hate" even made its way to President Barack Obama when the Bruins visited the White House after their 2011 Stanley Cup win — was the talk of the postgame more for his penchant for licking opponents.
Marchand went nose-to-nose with Callahan after a whistle with 1:21 left in the second, then leaned in and tried to lick Callahan’s face. The Lightning forward pushed him away.
"He punched me four times in the face," Marchand said. "He just kept getting close. Nothing big."
The Toronto Maple Leafs also complained about the tactic during their first-round series with Boston. Told that Callahan compared licking to spitting and said it should be penalized accordingly, Marchand said, "That’s cute. Good for him."
Two nights after scoring twice in the first 3:19 for a lead they would never relinquish, the Lightning again opened a 2-0 lead. Point scored about five minutes in when he split defenders Zdeno Chara and McAvoy at the blue line and then faked out Rask in the crease.
With the Bruins already a man down, Chara then backhanded the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt for another penalty. It was back to 5-on-4 when Kucherov made it 2-0 midway through the period on a power-play one-timer from the faceoff circle.
But David Pastrnak one-timed a golf-shot into the net to make it 2-1 after one, and then the Bruins tied it early in the second on a give-and-go from Bergeron to Krug and back to Bergeron. Boston was back on the penalty kill six minutes into the third when Marchand chased down a puck in the Lightning end and then delivered a cross pass that Bergeron redirected into the net.
Tampa Bay tied it with seven minutes left after Kucherov appeared to pull McAvoy down behind the Bruins net. The puck worked its from to J.T. Miller and then Stamkos in the slot for a one-timer to tie it 3-all with seven minutes left in regulation.
"It looks like he reached around and pulled him down," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Charlie’s a strong guy. But it wasn’t called, and it’s in our net. The non-call impacted the game directly."
NOTES: Bruins Hall of Famer Ray Bourque was in the crowd. … Referee Francois St. Laurent took a spill in the first minute of the third period and crashed head- and shoulder-first into the boards behind the Lightning net. He remained in the game.