By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
A five-game series with the Lightning seemed to bring out the absolute worst habits of the Bruins.
From bad turnovers to bad penalties to bad goals, you found yourself stuck somewhere between “there’s no way Tampa is this good” and “there’s no way the Bruins are this bad.” It was enough to make not finishing the job in a Game 2 overtime loss feel like a massive missed opportunity, and make you wonder how smarter decisions from Nick Ritchie could’ve impacted multiple games.
But Game 5, which saw the Bruins deliver their absolute best punch against a Lightning squad still without Steven Stamkos and without Nikita Kucherov for the second half of this game, confirmed that the Bolts were indeed the better team.
And significantly so.
“We thought we were the better team [in Game 5] and we wanted to play on,” Bruce Cassidy said after the defeat. “We put ourselves in a hole obviously, but felt we played well enough to win, get it to Game 6 and then see what happens from there. They’re a good team. They know how to win, they’ve done it a lot in overtime this season.
“They made one more play than we did.”
That play was created off another straight-up bad sequence from the Bruins, too, with Torey Krug beat to a puck by a forechecking Brayden Point despite having a five-stride advantage towards a careening puck behind Jaroslav Halak’s net.
Point gained possession, and essentially allowed the Lightning to set up shop in the Boston end, and with their best players on the ice.
It was perhaps the most predictable goal of the series, with the B’s a disorganized mess, on fumes, and unable to clear the puck out of their zone on their futile attempts cut off by bigger bodies and longer sticks. You just felt it coming.
This was, again, a microcosm of the series. Elite teams know how to punish you for your mistakes, and the Bolts did that. Again and again and again. This was a five-game root canal, really. For every one chance generated by the Bruins, the Lightning created four. For every 10 seconds of attacking zone-time against Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning returned the favor and choked the Bruins down for about 30 seconds of hard own-zone play. It was a clinic. And more importantly, it wasn’t a winning formula considering the mismatches in net, in backend creativity, and scoring depth that came to play.
Even on a night where the Bruins threw 47 shots on goal (their most in a losing effort since a 51-shot double-overtime loss to Carey Price’s Canadiens in the second round in 2014), the Lightning had that one extra shift to take advantage of Boston.
Erasing all doubt and all could-have-beens as they related to this head-to-head between Atlantic powerhouses.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a season-ending loss in the Toronto bubble…
Jaroslav Halak emptied the bucket in losing effort
After riding a high-high to a first-round series victory over the Hurricanes and a Game 1 win over the Lightning, the low-lows came for B’s goaltender Jaroslav Halak in Games 2, 3, and 4 of this series. Halak wasn’t the sole reason the Bruins lost these games, of course, but there were just way too many goals where you found yourself going “coulda used a save there.”
That was not the case in Game 5, as Elimination Game Halak came to play and gave the Bruins a fighting chance in this one.
And there was no bigger stop than his early double-overtime save on the white-hot Ondrej Palat.
Thrown into the starter’s role on short notice, little rest, and without a legitimate backup behind him, the 35-year-old did about as well as he could have, finishing his eight-game run with a 4-4 record and .907 save percentage.
I don’t want to see Zdeno Chara go out like this
For the record, I don’t think Bruins captain Zdeno Chara calls it quits this offseason. I just don’t think the end is truly here for him. Perhaps his days of being a top-pairing defenseman you play 25 minutes per game are over, sure, but he still has value in today’s game as a penalty killer. I also don’t think we’re talking about this if the 43-year-old didn’t have four months off from game action. This felt like a tough restart for Big Zee, even with his status as a workout fiend. Again, this is just what I think.
But perhaps I’m blinded by my hope that this is not the end for him. Because to have him go out like this would be just awful.
For 14 years, Chara has been everything the Bruins could have asked for. He’s absolutely the greatest free-agent signing in league history. (It’s also a crime he’ll only go down with one Norris Trophy win to his name.) And to be honest, the thought of him going out in an empty arena inside a bubble in the middle of a global pandemic just doesn’t sit right with me.
It’s just unnatural.
Maybe it beats the alternative of going out on a truly empty tank (like Jaromir Jagr with Calgary for a painful 22 games in 2017-18), but again, I’m not sure that that’s him just yet. I’d be curious to see how Chara, who will be 44 by the start of the 2021 postseason, looks in a second or third-pairing, penalty-kill specialist role.
An interesting decision awaits, all the same…
Ondrej Kase’s first Boston postseason run ends with a whimper
In case you’re curious, Ondrej Kase’s first postseason run with the Bruins ended with him on the fourth line with Joakim Nordstrom and Par Lindholm. Kase also finished that run with zero goals on 27 shots, just three assists in 10 games, and went the final six games without a single point to his name. The Bruins paid the Ducks a first-round pick and retained $1.5 million of David Backes’ $6 million salary to bring this guy to Boston. So, really, you created $1.9 million in cap space and lost a first-round pick (and prospect Axel Andersson) for what at the end of the day was similar production compared to Backes. Gross.
This was honestly as bad as it sounded, too, with Kase looking out of gas by the first period, and committing some straight-up dreadful turnovers throughout this game. He also inexplicably passed on what would’ve been a legitimate scoring chance, opting to instead send the pass back to the corner logjam and promptly ending the B’s bid for a go-ahead goal.
It’s likely that Kase, who is signed through next year at $2.6 million and is a restricted free agent at the end of that deal, will be better with a full training camp and proper adjustment to the Bruins. But the Bruins acquired him for this run. And they got almost nothing, and ended as they did in 2019, with Karson Kuhlman and David Pastrnak as their top two right wings.
A thank you.
Hey there. A truly, truly bizarre season is over and while the stories won’t stop (they’re just getting started), I wanted to say thank you to all of you who take the time to read what I write here. This was my second full season covering the Bruins for 98.5 The Sports Hub (it’s still weird to remember I legit jumped ship in the middle of the B’s first-round series in 2018) and my 10th season on the beat overall.
This website has grown exponentially in my two-plus years here, and I’m so proud of what we’re able to do on this website (quick shoutout to Dolloff, Alex, Tim, and The 13), but that doesn’t happen without you all clicking the links and engaging on all platforms. I’m stupidly lucky to do this for a living, and I appreciate all of you.
(OK, now back to yelling at me for hating all my takes you know are correct. Kidding. Maybe.)
Listen below for the latest episode of the Sports Hub Sidelines podcast with Ty Anderson and Matt Dolloff:
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.