Bruins take a step forward, but it's still not enough

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By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

Two games into their round-robin for seeding (and with a top-two seed now off the table), and three games into life in the Toronto bubble after four months away from game action, the Bruins are still on the hunt for a 60-minute effort.

And Wednesday, even in a 3-2 loss to the Lightning, was significantly better and a step in the right direction.

Down in an 0-2 hole off a lost puck and a double-deflection, the Bruins upped their physicality (they actually became the aggressors), and clawed their way back into a deadlocked game the old fashioned way. It came with the relentless 'waves' you had come to expect out of the Bruins throughout their Presidents' Trophy-winning campaign, too.

But in the end, it was a familiar mistake that turned a should-be positive into a negative in the blink of an eye.

"We had the puck on our stick with a minute and a half to go, breaking out of our end and all of a sudden, they’re coming back at us," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the Tyler Johnson goal that handed Boston their second loss in as many tries. "That plagued in the first two games and we have to clean that up."

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???? Tyler Johnson3-2 #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/Jg3YFRCgpk

"I didn’t think the ice was tilted heavily for [Tampa Bay]. Clearly our first shift of the game wasn’t good enough, we didn’t manage the puck and then you’re in the box. The end of the game we got a little loose there. If you rush chances and some of that we have to protect the middle of the ice better but again, to me it’s puck management."

And contrary to popular belief, these efforts are not uncommon to the Bruins. In fact, this sorta was who the Bruins were for the first three months of the season. They'd have a garbage period or two, then turn it on, and escape with a win.

It was a troubling trend back then, but it was buried by the constants that saved Boston from countless losses. Those constants included the superhuman play of The Bergeron Line (they scored 48 percent of Boston's regular-season goals), the B's alway-reliable power play, and some all-world goaltending from the Rask-Halak combo.

Those constants simply aren't there right now, and the results (or lack thereof) have predictably followed.

Less than a week into bubble life, Boston's power play is currently 0-for-7. The only other playoff team with seven or more power-play opportunities and zero goals is the Montreal Canadiens (they're 0-for-10 through three games). The Halak and Rask combo, meanwhile, has surrendered seven goals on 64 shots against. That .891 save percentage is a massive drop from their league-best .921 during the regular season, and if this were the regular season, it'd be the second-worst mark in hockey.

On the first line, meanwhile, the five-on-five struggles have been obvious, and Brad Marchand is currently 12th among Boston's 19 skaters in shots through two games. Marchand has turned into a tremendous playmaker for that first line, we'd all agree, but he has too good of a shot to only land three shots on goal through 40:54 of play (third-most on the B's) over two games.

That said, Wednesday was certainly the first line's best effort of the bubble. The message certainly got through to David Pastrnak, who led all Boston shooters with five shots on goal and generated countless chances. (It was great to see him refuse to pass up on that power-play one-time bomb he loads up like few others.)

"I think we have to keep communicating and keep improving and getting better," Patrice Bergeron said. "We haven’t had a chance to play as a unit throughout camp and we knew it was going to take a little time to get everything back but it’s up to us to keep talking and keep getting better. Ultimately, we need that as a line to find that within ourselves to keep working and keep getting better and helping our team."

But blaming this all on the pillars of what carried the Bruins to their (now-meaningless) regular-season record is shortsighted.

After days of Cassidy stressing the importance of landing shots on goal, Charlie Coyle needs to fire his 2-on-1 chance on goal. With zero shots on goal to that point, and with just two goals in their last 125 minutes of play, it's a chance that's gotta land on net.

David Krejci needs to be much better. It's been two games of Krejci looking a step behind and unable to generate much of anything, even with new linemates in Nick Ritchie and Karson Kuhlman.

Same goes for Jake DeBrusk. It's actually straight-up inexcusable that DeBrusk managed to play 16 minutes, including four and a half minutes of power-play time, and failed to get a shot on goal. I mean, if the Bruins are going anywhere, it's with DeBrusk being their third-best winger, and that player needs to arrive. (Someone get Toucher & Rich on the line for a bump, please.)

OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 27: Jake DeBrusk #74 of the Boston Bruins prepares for a face-off in a game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on November 27, 2019 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

And on the backend, it goes without saying that Brandon Carlo can be a lot better for this team.

That said, Wednesday was indeed a step forward.

But if the foundations and in-game saviors aren't going to be there for the team as they work their way through this slow start, the supporting cast has to be there to provide the lift. Because you're seeing what happens if they aren't. And it's a recipe for 'slippage' coming back to doom you when going up against the best the conference has to offer.

Here's some other thoughts and notes from a late-game loss to the Lightning...

Bruins' Rask shakes off rust after quarantine

After a cough put him in a two-day quarantine, B's netminder Tuukka Rask returned the night and looked closer to his Vezina form than he did in his exhibition outing against the Blue Jackets last week.

The good news? He felt fine, too.

"I felt good, felt normal out there," Rask, who stopped 32-of-35 in the losing effort, said. "I got to improve my hip flexors out there, they were cramping up at the start of the second period, so I guess that’s probably what it is.

"I was seeing the puck well, I was moving well, I had legs, I was tracking the puck, so I’ve got to be happy with that."

Much like Halak's game on Sunday, there's probably a few that Rask would like back. The first Lightning goal, which saw Rask lose the puck beneath him, comes to mind. You could also make a case for the third goal, which came with a juicy rebound for the Bolts' Tyler Johnson, but the team-wide breakdown that led to such a golden opportunity was straight-up gross.

So Rask, who is still in search of his first Cup as the B's start, will focus on the positives.

"That was my first real game in a couple months so I’m pretty happy how I felt," said Rask.

B's go with Krug-McAvoy pairing earlier than expected

Pairing Torey Krug with Charlie McAvoy isn't anything brand new to the Bruins. The Bruins will typically trot this duo out there when they're chasing a game late. It makes total sense, too. It's your offensively creative defensemen, and their left-right balance makes it even better. But going to it in the second period? That was a bit different.

And it led to Boston's first goal of the night.

"We’ve talked about it to Kevin [Dean] that [Torey] Krug will get some extra shifts in those situations with McAvoy or might be Griz and McAvoy, some combination of that," Cassidy said. "Leave our defenders who if it comes down to our end, you can always catch up. Zee and Carlo can go out and take a shift and then get back to your normal pairs.

"Those are just situational play where Kevin made a good call on the back end where we’ve discussed a number of times that we can get that one-timer from Charlie or Krug, one or the other, that we’re going to try to take advantage. Especially with Bergy in the circle on his strong side, you’ve got a pretty good chance of, you’re going to start with the puck so let’s see if we can make something happen. It happened to work out that time."

I've said it on The Hockey Show (Saturday mornings if you're fancy) before, but the idea of loading up your top two pairs with an overload at each end (Krug and McAvoy for o-zone play and Chara-Carlo in the d-zone) has always interested me. You probably can't get away with it for a full 60 minutes, but going to it in the second period and not in just the final 10 minutes of a game you're chasing is a big step towards maximizing this threat to its full capabilities.

Tampa's Goodrow deserves suspension for Bjork hit

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GoBolts Barclay Goodrow catches #NHLBruins Anders Bjork up high. Yikes. pic.twitter.com/GCO3YBM2pu

Not much to say here, really. This exact hit is why the NHL created Rule 48 a decade ago. It's a gross, needless hit that has no other purpose other than putting a player on the shelf with a concussion.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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.