The Boston Bruins now trail in their second-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series with the Tampa Bay Lightning after a 7-1 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday night in Toronto.
Here are some thoughts, observations and takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
— Frankly, there isn’t much to take away from this one, other than the fact that it might have been the worst loss of the Bruce Cassidy era — perhaps Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final excluded.
— It was a case of things starting poorly and then snowballing quickly. Nick Ritchie was called for a ticky-tack slashing penalty midway through the first period. Twenty-nine seconds later, the Lightning made it 1-0. Fifteen seconds after that, it was 2-0 Lightning when Yanni Gourde got an assist from a linesman who essentially set a pick on Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon. Typically, a team like the Bruins is able to put a stop to things there and claw itself back into the game. We’ve seen it plenty of times with this group over the years. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t there Wednesday night.
“The disappointing part about that is that we weren?t able to get ourselves back in the game by killing any further penalties or creating offense or having our push back,” Cassidy said after the game. “That?s what we lacked tonight for whatever reason. But it?s over.”
— Bruins goalies allowed seven goals on just 31 shots, but it was hardly the fault of Jaroslav Halak and Dan Vladar that Tampa Bay put up a touchdown and the extra point. There were far too many golden opportunities for the Lightning, and a team that good is going to take advantage more often than not. A perfect example came on Brayden Point’s goal late in the second period. The Bruins were “only” down three and getting a little sustained offensive pressure. Score a goal there, and it’s a game going into the third. Instead, Point was able to fly the zone, as the Bruins either forgot about or missed him on the ice, and then he’s gone. Point deked Vladar out of his pads, but even the best goalies are in a tough spot with Point coming down the ice all alone. Those sorts of chances were aplenty for Tampa all night — not much the goalies could do there.
— Specifically with Vladar, how about that for your first taste of NHL hockey? Imagine what he was thinking back in March, as the season started to wind down. At the time, he’s 22 and in the midst of a fine AHL season, watching the big club from afar with its two very good goaltenders in Tuukka Rask and Halak. Now, five months later, he’s making his NHL debut on a Wednesday night in August in the playoffs inside a bubble against arguably the best hockey team in the world. Pretty wild. When you consider all that, giving up three goals on 15 shots doesn’t seem as bad. It’s hard to say what the Bruins have in Vladar and whether they could feel comfortable going back to him if Halak got hurt or something like that (although they don’t really have a choice). He was too much under siege to say for sure, but it certainly will be a memorable first game for him to tell his kids and grandkids about.
— We ended our Game 2 takeaways post by saying the Tampa Bay power play “will get going at some point after starting the series in an 0-for-5 drought” to start the series. That was obvious, but it does look rather prophetic after the Bolts lit up the scoreboard with three power-play tallies in Game 3. It appears the tweaks are finally paying off, with Nikita Kucherov moving from the right side of the ice to the left where he’s essentially taking the injured Steven Stamkos’ spot. Kucherov certainly looked comfortable playing on his forehand in Game 3, as he picked up a pair of assists on the man advantage. Now, it’s on the Bruins to make their own adjustment, especially as the Lightning have regained their power-play confidence.
“Our penalty kill let us down tonight. It?s been terrific all year,” Cassidy lamented. “Really good in the playoffs so far, we didn?t get it done on the PK.”
— If you’re looking for positives from the Bruins side, at least Cassidy was able to manage ice time. No Bruin logged more than 18:37 of ice time, and Cassidy certainly took advantage of an opportunity to pull back on his horses. Charlie McAvoy, who was averaging more than 26 minutes since the start of the Carolina series, played just 16:19. On the second half of a back-to-back, 43-year-old Zdeno Chara played just over 18 minutes. Even pulling Halak gives the 35-year-old goalie a chance to rest up.
— Game 4 lineup decisions will be another focal point for the Bruins. Cassidy really turned on the blender in Game 3, inserting Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore and Par Lindholm to the Boston lineup. Some of that was by necessity; the Bruins were without Sean Kuraly, who was unfit to play, and Cassidy instead opted for the extra defenseman. Even so, that still meant Anders Bjork and Connor Clifton were sat down. The Clifton one is peculiar. He had looked pretty good through the first two games against the Lightning, and Lauzon struggled at times in his return (although so did just about everyone, really). There certainly could be more change on the way, too. Cassidy lamented the middle lines’ inability to get going, as he hoped some of the younger players on those lines would pick up the slack for older players on the second half of the back-to-back. That didn’t work, of course, so it’s back to the drawing board.
— Somewhat related to that, Cassidy also briefly mentioned a desire for the Bruins’ defensemen to get more involved offensively. If that’s the case, you’d have to think Clifton — if healthy — would be back in the lineup. But it’s an interesting point. Torey Krug hasn’t necessarily had a bad series, but when the Bruins are clicking, he feels like an offensive threat. He has just three shots on goal through the first three games. The Bruins were 16-5-4 this season when he was able to get three shots on net in a game. Obviously, just getting him three shots on net doesn’t automatically improve the Bruins’ chances, but we’ve seen how getting the D-men involved has benefited Tampa Bay. The Bruins are relying too heavily on their first line and power play to generate offense right now, so getting the blue liners involved should help.
— The bad news about Game 3 is just about everything for Boston. The good news? It’s just one game, and there are ways to fix some of the most glaring issues. While the Bruins didn’t look very resilient on Wednesday night, it’s still hard to see any way they don’t come back with a strong effort in Game 4.
“Seven to one, 2-1, a loss is a loss,” Cassidy said. “They?re up two to one. I think we got a good group in there — I know we have a good group in there. They?re resilient. So like I said, we?ll lick our wounds (Thursday), get away from the rink and get ready for Game 4.”