By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
For most of the season, the Bruins' defense has benefitted from playing as little defense as possible. When they get pinned down for extended time, it tends to gradually descend into chaos. And that's when opponents have been able to strike. But they've been able to mitigate it by making quick breakouts, which have been the spark for their dynamic offense and often-dominant possession game.
In Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which put the Bruins in a 2-1 hole in the series, Boston's breakouts turned to breakdowns. After edging out the sloppier, softer Toronto Maple Leafs in seven hectic games, they've run into a tougher, grittier Tampa team that forechecks relentlessly with all of their skaters, that gives their opponents minimal space to operate.
In Game 3, especially, it's led to a Lightning attack that has stifled the Bruins offense before it can even get going.
Patrice Bergeron, who scored the lone goal for the Bruins on a power play, was well aware of the B's problems just getting their offense started. Forget keeping the pressure on the Lightning, they could barely begin applying pressure of any kind.
"We've got to break out of our zone better, we need to make better passes and go from there," said Bergeron. "If we keep flipping the puck out and giving them the puck, obviously we're not gonna sustain pressure."
Torey Krug complimented Tampa's combination of sound puck management and tenacious forechecking that beat up the Bruins, clamping down on the B's in their zone and taking advantage of their inability to break out smoothly.
"They had good gaps and they were holding our guys up so we couldn’t really get too much on the forecheck, and they were putting pucks in good places on their dump-in, so it made it tough for us as defensemen to get back there and move the puck and have clean breakouts," said Krug. "They're a good team. It's obviously no secret we knew they were gonna cause some issues for us. It's up to us to correct it for next game."
Both Bergeron and Krug's postgame comments speak not just to the Bruins' struggles in their own end, but the neutral zone as well. Tampa's forwards, particularly the lines centered by Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli, consistently broke up whatever passing lanes the Bruins could find. Even when the B's could break it out, Tampa often turned the puck right back the other way.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy acknowledged that the defensive zone breakouts were "not good enough" for the Bruins, and in a way were the impetus for their ineptitude in the other two zones.
"I think part of [our trouble on breakouts] is not having the urgency to get moving up ice," said Cassidy. "[The Lightning] reload well, and they're able to influence it pretty well that way. We have to execute better ... support it better, and then not turn it over so we're having to break it out a second time after we do it the first time successfully.
"If you're breaking out well, you're out of your end, and you're probably not giving up a lot of shots. So to me, it wasn't good enough."
The Lightning have been all over the Bruins when on the forecheck, and for the B's it's led to sloppiness and indecisiveness. Tampa exploited it well enough, particularly on their first and third goals, and a byproduct of that has been a suddenly stagnant offense for Boston.
If the Bruins want to even the series in Friday's Game 4, they need to tidy up their game across all 200 feet of the ice. But like most good possessions, it starts with a clean breakout. And if they can't neutralize or overcome the pressure that Tampa is putting on them in those situations, this series could slip away from them in a hurry.
Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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