By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Is it fair to say that Jaroslav Halak makes me nervous?
Just a liiiittle nervous.
He’s got a little bit of that Timmy Thomas, Anton Khudobin look to him. When he’s on, he’s on. But when he’s off, he has a tendency to make you wince on routine saves. That’s not always a bad thing, but it causes a bit more anxiety than you’d like. Tuesday’s Game 2, taken by Tampa Bay by a 4-3 overtime final, was definitely one of those nights that had you watching with bated breath.
But that doesn’t mean he should lose his net to Daniel Vladar in Wednesday’s Game 3 with the Lightning. Even if Tuesday was a little too leaky, and even if Game 3 is on the second leg of a back-to-back. (The fact that we’re actually doing back-to-backs right now, with the league down to its final eight vying for the Stanley Cup, is so mindblowingly and infuriatingly stupid, but that’s for another day.)
And even if Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t outright committing to a goaltender just yet.
“If you ask me who my starting goalie is tomorrow night, I don’t really know,” Cassidy said after Game 2. “I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Allow me: It’s gotta be Halak. That’s the answer. That’s the column.
As 2020 as it would be to give the keys to a 23-year-old with zero minutes and zero seconds of NHL experience and watch him win a Stanley Cup, going to Vladar right now would be self-destruction.
Just watch Game 2. For three periods and five minutes of overtime play, the Lightning buried the Bruins. It was a territorial domination. Winning almost every battle and intercepting nearly every soft clearing attempt, the Bolts out-attempted the Bruins by a staggering 73-47 mark at five-on-five, and threw 35 five-on-five shots on Halak’s net (4o in total). It was the third-most five-on-five shots the Bruins allowed on goal at any point during the 2019-20 season, trailing only a Nov. 4 win over the Penguins (39 five-on-five shots against) and a Jan. 11 win over the Isles (36 shots against at five-on-five).
This — after the Lightning dominated the second period of Game 1 for 18 shots on goal, too — would be a death sentence for Vladar.
Hell, it might be a death sentence for Halak.
But potential death always beats certain death. Especially in a 1-1 series.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-3 overtime loss…
Let’s see how things change with ‘home ice’ change in Game 3
Through the first two games of this series, the Bruins have started Zdeno Chara in the defensive zone a staggering 35 times. 35! That’s meant that Charlie McAvoy has started a ton of his shifts in the d-zone, too. 33 times to be exact. The Bruins are also giving the Bergeron and Kuraly lines a ton of d-zone starts, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider their matchups.
But Game 3 will come with a reversal, as the Bruins will get the benefit of last change as the ‘home’ team.
That should give the Bruins the ability to regularly trot McAvoy out there with Torey Krug or Matt Grzelcyk in the offensive zone, while stacking Brandon Carlo and Chara in the d-zone when necessary or when No. 73 needs a breather. (McAvoy is currently fifth among all still-playing defenders, with 24:50 of time on ice per night).
This is something that Cassidy has tinkered with at various points this preseason, and may be the best way to maximize their o-zone time, which has been notably bottled at five-on-five since the second period of Game 1.
This could also be a massive boost to the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line in the offensive-zone, too, especially if Ryan McDonagh (unfit to play in Game 2) remains on the shelf and forces Tampa to go with a seven-defender rotation. And it can only go up for the DeBrusk-Krejci-Kase line, which was by all means nonexistent in Game 2.
Ritchie has best postseason showing yet
The Bruins needed the real Nick Ritchie to come to play in this series. And after a quiet Game 1 that saw the 6-foot-2, 230-pound wing log fourth-line minutes, Ritchie got the message and delivered his best performance yet in a losing effort.
The dude just straight-up shoveled until he heard a goal horn. That’s the Ritchie this team needs.
But Ritchie also created some space for himself in the slot, and actually fired a pair of good looks on goal. If he can develop some actual chemistry with the puck-possession game that Charlie Coyle brings, this will be a gigantic boost to the Bruins. (It would also answer the question of whether or not Coyle can thrive with a bigger body, as he’s typically done his best work in Boston with more fancy-number darling wings like Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, and Marcus Johansson.)
Speaking of, how ’bout some more teeth?
The Lightning have some real poop-stirrers on their bottom six. I mean, just in Game 2 alone you saw Cedric Paquette slash Halak and Pat Maroon throw a cheap, more annoying-than-harmful elbow to Connor Clifton. Even top-line winger Nikita Kucherov goad Kuraly into a slashing minor by hooking Kuraly right around the midsection.
And while I’ll sound like a caveman for encouraging this sort of violence, it’s time for the Bruins to return the favor in Game 3.
To quote Jurassic World (you know I can’t resist), they need more teeth.
I go back to that round-robin meeting between these teams. When the Bruins turned up the temperature in that glorified exhibition against the Lightning, they suddenly played with juice and had their best stretch of the game. It was actually the best they looked all “tourney.” They didn’t back down from the challenge. Instead, they made Tampa match their intensity.
Go back to Charlie McAvoy and Clifton turning up the heat with some thunderous shots of their own in the third period of their Game 4 comeback win over the Hurricanes in the first round and you’ll see more of the same from the Black and Gold.
Through two games, it’s felt like the Bolts have been controlling the speed and aggression of this series. Time to change that.
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.