By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Did you really think the Bruins were going to go up 2-0 to begin their second-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning? Especially when the first two games of the series were to be played in Tampa?
Before you answer, allow me to hit you with some numbers that should rain on your parade: The Lightning finished the regular season as the league’s fifth-best home team, with a 29-10-2 record at Amalie Arena. Only the Bruins, Wild, Penguins, and Jets had greater home-ice advantages. And only the Golden Knights, Bruins, Wild, and Penguins scored more goals at home than the Bolts. That success carried over into the Bolts’ first round of postseason play, too, with a perfect 3-0 record and 13-to-6 scoring advantage at Amalie in their five-game series win over the Devils.
It’s my roundabout way of saying that the split the Bruins return to Boston with may have been the best-case scenario.
Now, if your expectations were raised after a 6-2 beatdown of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Co., I’m not going to blame you.
That was one of those games that the Bruins, led by two goals from Rick Nash, made look completely easier than it ever should have been. Especially when you look at the way the Bolts seemed to keep the Bergeron Line at bay in terms of their typically-dominating possession metrics and the Lightning’s rest factor compared to that of the Bruins. Taking advantage of a possession loss and flipping it to a win seems like a gift from above for the B’s, especially on the road.
It even made a believer out of Mike Felger, who channeled his inner Bruins Bobo, even if it was just for one segment.
But Lightning head coach Jon Cooper essentially called out every single member of his squad after that loss, and challenged them to be even better — not that that would have been particularly difficult — in Game 2.
The desperate Lightning responded properly, holding the Bruins without a shot on goal for the first 15 minutes of the opening period, letting the B’s fire just 13 five-on-five shots on Vasilevskiy, and once again frustrating Boston from a possession standpoint. You could even make the case that the latter has been a constant through the first 120 minutes of this series, as the Bruins were more opportunistic than they were dominant in their Game 1 victory — and then far beyond frustrated than opportunistic when the Bolts were given a second crack at ’em at Amalie.
Through two games, the Bruins have been pressured into 23 giveaways, and seen their breakout slump their way into 41 defensive-zone faceoff draws (they had just 67 giveaways and 141 defensive-zone draws in seven games in the first round). So for comparison’s sake, this means that the Bruins have been in double-digits in giveaways in both of their games against the Bolts this series versus reaching such a ‘milestone’ in just four games of their seven first-round contests. It also means that the 37.6 percent of the Bruins’ draws have come in their own zone through the first two games of this series while just 30.4 percent of their faceoffs came in their end in round one.
That makes a gigantic difference when on the road, and it’s a credit to the Lightning’s video scouting, which has most definitely figured something out in regards to the Black and Gold’s preferred way to break the puck out of their end.
Speaking to that scouting on the part of Cooper’s staff, the B’s frustrations, and how it all comes together, Game 2 was one of the only games this season where the Bruins seemed legitimately dominated by the opposition.
One final nugget to explain this sort of domination against the Bruins: The Bruins have kicked off this series with back-to-back possession nights of under 40 percent at five-on-five. Whether you’re a believer in these (not-so) advanced metrics or not, it’s noteworthy that that’s something that had not happened — not even once! — to the Bruins under Bruce Cassidy. In fact, this had not happened to the Bruins since the end of February 2016.
And they still lost Game 2 by just one real goal (an empty-net goal from Brayden Point made it a two-goal final against the Bruins, but you get the point), and were victimized by some horrid-at-best officiating all the while.
So, again, perhaps 1-1 is a dream.
But now the series shifts back to Boston, where real expectations and pressure should await the Black and Gold.
This goes beyond the simple fact that the Bruins, who were off the ice on Tuesday, will have another day to look back on the video of what the Bolts did right through and what they seemingly did wrong or not enough.
One of the few teams better than the Bolts at home, the Bruins have downright imposed their will against the opposition at TD Garden. Their possession metrics were the best in the league in the regular season, and beyond the simple possession of controlling the game’s pace (which means nothing without production), the Black and Gold regularly converted on their high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five among the league’s best.
If the B’s could truly flip the script, too, there’s the fact that the Bruins generated the sixth-most power-play opportunities (and had the league’s third-best conversion percentage in this regard) at home this year, and come back to the Hub after a first round with 18 power-play opportunities and a 38.9 power-play percentage on Garden ice.
If ice tilts their way, and with a makeup of that aforementioned disaster from Kelly Sutherland’s crew on Monday night (these makeup games happen, as infuriating as they may be), these are chances that the B’s should convert on.
Especially against a Tampa squad they’ve defeated in 80 percent of their visits to Boston over the last five years-plus, and in both prior head-to-heads during the regular season, if it’s a more relevant sample size you seek.
So if you’re looking for a 2-0 of sorts, it’s comin’ this Wednesday and Friday.
As long as the Bruins adjust accordingly.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.