By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s not unfair to say this Bruins group had no business even hanging with a juggernaut Lightning group on Thursday.
The league-best Lightning entered play with wins in four straight, eight of their last 10 games overall, and in all but four of their 15 home games this season. The Bruins, meanwhile, arrived town at Amalie Arena two straight losses to their name and just 14 goals scored over their last nine games (a stretch that’s somehow included four wins).
But led by a quick start on David Pastrnak’s 20th goal of the season and a solid 20-of-21 opening 40 minutes from Tuukka Rask, the Bruins put themselves in that exact situation in the third period. Even when a defensive breakdown allowed Mathieu Joseph to slide in for the go-ahead goal at the 2:40 mark of the third period, they remained in position for a potential win.
See, it was just 1:09 after that Joseph goal that Tampa Bay netminder Louis Domingue inexplicably rifled a puck up and over the glass, putting the Lightning to the penalty kill, and giving the Bruins life. Life from a Boston power-play group that’s found ways to bail the team’s even-strength failures out at various points throughout this injury-plagued start to the year.
But a stick-less Steven Stamkos blocked and punched a Brad Marchand shot out of danger, and Pastrnak’s attempted keep-in took the perfect bounce towards Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli then turned on his jets, and found a clear lane towards Rask for a shorthanded breakaway, complete with a Rask-splitting deke that allowed Cirelli to pot his fifth goal of the season.
Just like that, and in the blink of an eye (15 seconds), the Bruins were down by two in the third period of a 3-2 loss.
It was the perfect moment to show just how difficult it is for this Bruins squad to win right now.
Finishing the night with two goals thanks to David Krejci’s strike scored with just 1:45 left in the game, the loss featured the Black and Gold’s fifth straight game with two goals at most (at most!), and their ninth in their last 10 games overall.
This has left the Bruins with almost no room to make a mistake, and it’s simply not going to work when going against teams with an much scoring prowess and depth as the Lightning. It’s really as simple as that, and you’ve officially seen that play out.
It’s what made Pastrnak’s first-period goal feel so important to the Bruins, and almost made it negative as strange as that sounds, as you essentially knew the Bruins needed to simply batten down the hatches for the next 58 minutes of play. And again, against a team with as much firepower as the Bolts, that’s a ridiculously tough ask.
If you’re looking for positives in such an effort, forward Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson returned to the lineup after three straight games as a healthy scratch and won all six of his faceoffs and put two shots on goal in 12:23. Ryan Donato finished with two shots on goal, was on the ice for both of Boston’s goals, and had a great board battle victory to keep the puck alive in the B’s pursuit of a game-tying goal late. Brandon Carlo, meanwhile, had his best game since his return to the Boston lineup.
There’s also the fact that they kept it close against a downright lethal Lightning group, outshooting Tampa 24-15 in the final two periods of play.
But as the Bruins continue to try and keep their heads above water until the return of Patrice Bergeron, with losses in three straight regular-season games for just the second time since Bruce Cassidy took over as the team’s head coach in Feb. 2017, there’s no denying the next biggest positive has to come on the scoreboard.
And with two points.
They’ll look for that Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.