By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In a best-of-seven turned best-of-five, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy overthought his Game 3 lineup.
Without fourth-line motor Sean Kuraly (unfit to play) at his disposal, Cassidy wisely made the call to plug Par Lindholm in as Kuraly’s replacement between Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner on Boston’s fourth line. But every other move Cassidy made ahead of a disaster that ended as the team’s worst playoff loss in 28 years?
Yeaaaaah, about that…
No matter what haunted the territorially-dominated Bruins in Game 2 — and from the second period of Game 1, really — it was not going to be fixed by the addition of John Moore and Jeremy Lauzon, and removal of a forward from an already-ghostly middle six forward group on the second leg of a back-to-back. Especially not at the expense of Connor Clifton, who has been one of your better defenders since jumping into action in the middle of Boston’s first-round series with Carolina. This much I do know.
Playing copycat with Jon Cooper and going with seven defensemen was fine in theory. The Bruins could’ve used extra snarl on the backend to combat the Maroons, Goodrows, and Paquettes of this series, and Lauzon or Moore (a combined 11 hits) helped. It didn’t stop you from getting your head kicked in and Maroon laughing in your face all the while, but it was worth a shot.
But, again, adding them both to the lineup while removing Clifton from a defense that’s routinely lacked innovation, felt like a net loss.
This is not to say that Clifton is in untouchable territory, but he’s been more good than bad this postseason. The Bruins are outshooting the opposition 32-17 with Clifton on the ice, and his corsi percentage (65.31%) and expected goals against (1.14) at five-on-five this postseason were both tops among B’s defenders entering Wednesday. He’s passed the eye and analytic test, and with flying colors. His rough-ish Game 2 effort should not have come with a press box sentence. I mean, Lauzon got more rope after an ‘OK’ round-robin and shaky postseason start.
The Bruins also found a way to give Charlie Coyle, who has been their best forward not named Brad Marchand or David Krejci, less to work with in this game, making Nick Ritchie, who moves at glacial speed at almost all times, the lone constant on his line. (Ritchie followed up his shovel-goal game with a 0-0-0, minus-2. and one shot in almost 17 minutes.)
This just felt like a Hail Mary on second down in the second quarter of a tied game.
When only one tweak was needed, it was two by an overthinking Cassidy that’s put the Bruins in a chasing position against a clearly deeper team, and just one more loss away from real Hail Mary time.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 7-1 loss…
The Lightning power-play’s awakening could spell doom for B’s
Believe it or not, the Bruins entered this Game 3 showdown with a lot working in their favor. Captain Steven Stamkos is still on the shelf for Tampa, shutdown defender Ryan McDonagh was set to miss his second straight game, and the Lightning man advantage was still posting a donut. (If you told me at the start of the season that that is the Tampa squad that the B’s would have drawn in a best-of-five, I would have taken it 100 times out of 100. You’d be crazy not to.)
But that changed on Wednesday, and in a gigantic way, with the Bolts scoring three straight power-play tallies, and finishing the night 3-for-6 on the man advantage. Eek.
This, with the Bruins playing out of their minds with frustration creeping into their game and some borderline-at-best calls working against them, was a recipe for disaster.
“Our penalty kill let us down tonight,” Cassidy said after the loss. “It’s been terrific all year. Really good in the playoffs so far, we didn’t get it done on the PK. Now you’re in a 2-0 hole and you played not a bad period. So, rest of the game, we didn’t respond. Like I said, the disappointing part about that is that we weren’t able to get ourselves back in the game by killing any further penalties or creating offense or having our pushback.”
This could be their undoing, too, if the team doesn’t start generating some more quality looks against Andrei Vasilevskiy, or at the very least drive to the high-danger areas that’ll earn them chances for the deadly man advantage of their own.
Halak’s struggles stung a little bit worse in this one
It’s hard not to think what could’ve been had Jaroslav Halak, who departed after allowing four goals on 16 shots, stopped the Mikhail Sergachev low glove-side power-play tally that made it 3-1. You get a stop there (you should have), and Brad Marchand’s power-play goal makes it a one-goal game. When we talk about the need for timely saves, we talk about sequences like that.
This series really changed when Tampa’s Jon Cooper talked about the need for his blue line to take more shots. He noticed how it worked for Victor Hedman (the Bolts’ lone scorer in Game 1 with two point blasts that bounced around and through Halak) and since then it’s been a straight-up barrage, with a combined 25 of their last 71 shots coming from their d-men.
The veteran Halak (and even Tuukka Rask before him) has struggled with almost every single of those chances, too. Either by a bad bounce, a funky rebound, or just losing sight of it.
But the results speak for themselves for Tampa, so don’t expect that strategy to stop anytime soon.
Daniel Vladar got some NHL experience, and it went about as well as you’d expect
Daniel Vladar was thrown to the wolves on Wednesday night.
It was almost too painful to watch, really.
Summoned into mop-up duty with the B’s down by three and the Bolts humming at perhaps their best clip all postseason, the 23-year-old Vladar was subjected to 15 shots, three of which went by him, in under 29 minutes of action.
“Listen, it was a point where we felt that if we need Dan Vladar, maybe this is a better way to get him some work,” Cassidy said of his call to the bullpen. “Less a reflection on Jaro. Give him a break. Let’s get a look at him. It was 4-1, and Tampa got energized from that second period and I think we were deflated.
“I just had a gut feeling our guys were going to have a tough time pushing back from three goals down, so let’s look at Vladdy.”
But before his night went downhill faster than Brayden Point on a breakaway, Vladar (zero seconds of NHL experience before tonight) appeared to get some words of encouragement from Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. NHL on NBC cameras also caught the 35-year-old Halak giving Vladar some advice during the second intermission.
“I would like to keep it internal,” Chara said of his chat with the rookie netminder. “We have different discussions, but just, Vladdy was going into the net, it was his first game, playoff game. He’s obviously a great goalie and we support him. He was obviously put in a tough position, but he made some big saves for us.”
“I’m glad he got an opportunity to play. I don’t wish it in that circumstance but it is what it is and he got him some work,” Cassidy admitted. “Hopefully he’s better off for it down the road.”
This effort, while valiant, confirmed what we already knew: With Tuukka Rask out of the picture, this is Halak’s ride. Completely.
Down 2-1 and what it’s meant for past Bruins teams
Boy, does 1-0 feel like it was a million years ago and three hours ago all at once or what?
But this flipping of the script from the Lightning has opened a new door of historical context of sorts, so here you go: The Bruins have a 10-24 all-time record in best-of-seven series when they have trailed 1-2. Their last experience overcoming such a hole came just last year, as the Bruins overcame 1-2 deficits against both the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets. The Lightning, meanwhile, have a 7-3 all-time record in best-of-seven series when they have led 2-1.
As for the immediate future, the Bruins will enter Game 4 with an 18-16 record in Game 4 contests when trailing in a series 1-2. The Lightning, on the other hand, have a 5-5 record in Game 4 contests when up 2-1.
So, uh, flip a coin?
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.