By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’d be nice to blame the officials for what happened to the Boston Bruins in their five-game series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’d actually be the most convenient thing to do, too, as it would be beyond satisfying enough to simply say, “That’s fine, they’ll be here next year and not have to worry about that happening again.” The Bruins would love to do that. It absolves them of any real ownership of what transpired in an agonizing second-round exit.
A large chunk of Bruins fans, meanwhile, would love to blame B’s goaltender Tuukka Rask. To them, it’s another year that saw Rask fail to come close to matching the miracle run of Tim Thomas in 2011, and to them, the time for that to even happen has come and gone, meaning Rask is a nobody and should be shipped out of town as soon as possible.
But neither of these excuses will hold up with a further examination of this series, which will reveal that Boston’s even-strength scoring jumped out the window at 60 miles per hour, rolled off the road, and never quite returned home.
Think about this: When Patrice Bergeron scored at the 10:11 mark of the third period in Game 1, it was the last five-on-five goal scored by a Boston forward. Not in that game, but in the entire series. (I’m completely serious!) This means that the Black and Gold went 253 minutes and 17 seconds — also known as from that Bergeron goal until the final horn at Amalie Arena on Sunday meant the Bruins were donezo — without a goal from one of their forwards.
You basically could have stopped watching the games, decided to watch two Star Wars movies in sporadic bursts beginning Monday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., and then again at 3 p.m. on Sunday and you probably would not have missed out on a Boston forward scoring a goal at even-strength. It could be Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or maybe a few Marvel movies. You even could have listened to ‘This is America’ by Childish Gambino about 60 times in a row — I may be guilty of this one, not gonna lie — and you still would not have missed anything from a Boston forward at five-on-five, Totally up to you, but the point remains — and is utterly absurd.
It all lines up, though, as the Bruins were a negative possession squad in four of the five games this series. It was just their third stretch that saw him lose the possession battle in any four-of-five segment this season, and the first since a late-November grind that saw them forced to claw out tight decision after tight decision for four wins in five games.
But the Bruins could not find that same luck against a ridiculously-loaded Bolts squad.
In the final four games of this series, Bruins winger Brad Marchand put just two five-on-five shots on goal. That ranked 14th among Boston skaters over that span, and came with Marchand logging the sixth-most five-on-five time on ice on the team (62:25) during that stretch. Marchand had a rough finish to this series, too, with zero shots on goal in a must-win Game 5, and with countless shifts that felt as if Marchand was trying to do too much versus playing the game that allowed him to be a legitimate superstar talent for the Bruins this season. (It’d also be dumb not to credit the play of Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh when it came to this noteworthy shutdown game.)
Beyond Marchand’s out-of-thin-air struggles at five-on-five play, David Krejci had just two five-on-five shots land on net in the final four games, and with the eighth-most five-on-five time on ice, with 57:40 of action. Rick Nash generated his shots, but completely failed to replicate his Game 1 performance — or even look like the same player. Jake DeBrusk was undoubtedly limited by whatever upper-body injury he played through, and David Backes became borderline unplayable, demoted to fourth-line shifts and without much of a set role by Game 4 of this series.
You knew the Bruins were in deep trouble at evens when Brian Gionta was rolled into the lineup, and when Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy threw his lines in a complete blender with some unheard of combinations for Game 5. And it was going to be a struggle when the Bruins were a certifiable one line — uh, no line — team by the round’s conclusion.
This was not just the fault of a Boston forward group stymied by the Bolts’ stifling defensive pressure.
Get rid of the ‘forward’ filter and it’s not much better, actually, as Torey Krug’s even-strength goal late in the third period of Game 2 was their last even-strength goal by any skater, some 188:20 ago. The Bruins weren’t even getting the fool’s gold of goals from their defensemen by the end of this series. Factor that in with countless turnovers and struggles forced by a relentless Tampa Bay forecheck, and it all obviously became too much to overcome.
For the first time in six months, it truly felt like the Bruins were completely hopeless at five-on-five. This, on top of their overall inconsistency, is likely why we were all so desperate for the Bruins to get their power-play cracks.
Anything to see less of the five-on-five play that hit its lowest point at the absolute wrong time and ultimately accelerated the Bruins’ second-round doom quicker than any bad call or allegedly ‘soft goal’ could.
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.