By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Before the entire Bruins team exhaled as the clock hit zero in Game 1, I felt this voice in the back of my head remind me that I’ve seen this before. You know the one. The one that reminds you that you called a teacher “Mom” when you were was 10 (and again when you were 17), or like that time of night when you rest your head on the pillow and suddenly recall every single other cringeworthy moment of your entire life. (I have told every movie theater concession worker that they too should enjoy the movie I’m about to watch. 28 years on this planet. Every. Single. Effin’. Time.)
Sure enough, that voice came hollerin’ in my ear the moment Ondrej Palat found the hole on a down-and-out Jaroslav Halak to give the Bolts a series-tying overtime victory in Tuesday night’s Game 2.
It was in 2018 when the Bruins steamrolled the Lightning in Game 1… and then promptly lost four straight, getting outscored 15-to-7 over that four-game slide out of postseason play. The Bruins are more than aware of that series, too. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy talked about it in his pre-series media availability. It’s in their mind. Not to the point where it’s derailing them, but they’re aware of the challenges Tampa brought after losing 2018’s Game 1.
And Tuesday felt like a throwback to that series.
For 60 minutes and change, the Lightning imposed their will on the Bruins. The DeBrusk-Krejci-Kase line had their worst effort of the postseason, the Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo pairing found themselves pinned in throughout the night (and especially on the Palat overtime winner), and Jaroslav Halak’s five-hole squeakers spoiled a boxscore-solid 36-of-40 effort. The Lightning also played that heavier game that stifled the Bruins in 2018, and it felt like a miracle when a win went Boston’s way.
The Bruins were also smothered into 21 five-on-five shots on goal (their third-lowest total since moving to the bubble). Their 1.41 expected goals for was also their fourth-lowest of the postseason if you include the round-robin games. The Bruins have lost all but one of those games (the exception is the game where their power play carried them to victory over Carolina).
To compound those issues generating, the Bruins also missed what felt like a billion point-blank looks on Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That can’t happen if you’re going to try to win a series against a team with as much firepower as the Bolts.
“We didn’t execute at the o-zone blue line a couple different times, even late in overtime we had a chance from there we’re off net,” Cassidy said after the loss. “Some of that is on us to be better, bear down, some of it’s just a different makeup of our D corps, but I thought we had good looks, we just didn’t have the volume attempts. We had point blanks in the slot, [Anders] Bjork missed, [David Pastrnak] a couple times, [Chris] Wagner, [Patrice Bergeron] late, so there were some good looks for us there just wasn’t a quantity of kind of plays, like our tying goal by [Brad Marchand].
“So we certainly need a little bit more of that.”
Nick Ritchie’s first goal of the night and Marchand’s game-tying tally are examples of what the Bruins need to do on a consistent basis. This is where Cassidy’s “we’re two years older” comes into play, too. Ritchie played curling until he heard a whistle and was rewarded, and Marchand’s tally featured about three second-effort plays from all three forwards.
That’s the ‘two years older’ stuff that the Bruins need to come through to win this series.
And beyond that, the obvious No. 1 factor between then and now is Pastrnak’s physical and mental maturation. Pastrnak is now capable of using his body to maintain possession and make plays. His second-period sequence on Victor Hedman, where he slammed on the brakes and absorbed a hit from behind but still escaped with the puck, is an example of that. After going through four rounds with a battered thumb in 2019, he’s more aware of what this time of year requires. Same for Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Carlo (on the shelf for the entire 2018 run).
Elsewhere, Charlie Coyle is an upgrade over Riley Nash and David Backes. Ondrej Kase is giving you more than a concussed Rick Nash did everywhere ‘cept the goal column to date, and Ritchie (this was the best he’s looked all postseason) is more capable than Brian Gionta and Ryan Donato. You saw a mixed bag from Bjork, but he seemed to ‘get it’ as the game rolled on.
The Lightning also skated without Ryan McDonagh, and they’ve spent this entire postseason run without Steven Stamkos.
But the margin for error against this Tampa team is still as thin as it was back then.
The Bruins can’t bite on Zach Bogosian fakes. They can’t lose Blake Coleman in the third period of a tied game, and off such a low-percentage chance at the other end. And they can’t afford to let a five-man Tampa attack grind them to dust over three full periods (and more) and expect to win this battle.
In a year that isn’t 2018, Tuesday felt like 2018. Now comes delivering the message that it is not.
“I think they want to play heavy and fast and they’ve got skill and I think we’ve got all the same things,” Sean Kuraly said after the loss. “It turns out to be two good teams going at it head-to-head. No one wants to go home and you’re kind of seeing the effects of that. Each team trying to play their game and usually whoever can play the most of their game ends up winning.”
The good news: the Bruins won’t have to wait long to prove that this isn’t a repeat, with Game 3 set for Wednesday.
Now if we can just shut that voice up, that’d be great. I’d love to get some sleep.
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.