Tampa Bay Lightning

Bean: This is what it will look like if teams can silence the Bergeron line

Bean: This is what it will look like if teams can silence the Bergeron line

This isn't a column about this series. It's about the second round, when the Bruins and Lightning will presumably meet in a series we've have all expected for months. 

It would be about this round, but Monday's Game 3 -- a night in which Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak was finally stymied -- was more of a sign of what to expect in future series than what to expect the rest of this one. The Leafs aren't good enough to stop the Bergeron line with any sort of regularity. The Lightning are. 

Still, what we saw Monday night is both a reminder that one line can't do everything for the Bruins and that the rest of its roster will need to pull its weight when the first line is taken out of the game.

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Through the first two games of the series, the Bergeron line was responsible for five of Boston's six goals in five-on-five play. The trio was so dominant that opponents were visibly quitting on the ice by the end of Game 2. 

The play of the Bergeron was a product of two things: its skill level and its home-ice advantage. Holding the ability to get last change, Bruce Cassidy put his best line against the defensively deficient Auston Matthews line, silencing Toronto's best player and getting several Boston goals in the process. 

When the series shifted back to Toronto, Mike Babcock finally got an opportunity to stop the bleeding. He moved the old but defensively stingy Tomas Plekanec -- who for years matched up with Bergeron and Marchand when he played for the Canadiens -- to his second line and matched the new trio of Plekanec between Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner against the Bergeron line. 

The results were immediate. The Bergeron line not only struggled to get chances early, but actually spent much of their early shifts in their own zone. It proved to be a sign of things to come. 

For the first time this series, the Bergeron line did not score at all. This came despite a flurry of chances in the third period. In fact, the line allowed a pair of goals, proving to be the difference in the game. 

The first goal allowed by the trio came in the second period when Marleau scored 43 seconds after Boston had tied the game at 1. Later in the period, after the Plekanec trio tired out the Bergeron line, Babcock noticed the Bergeron line's tired legs and threw Matthews' line on the ice one with Boston overdue for a change. It paid off, with Matthews scoring 1:31 into Pastrnak's shift. 

When a team is able to silence the Bergeron line the way the Leafs did Monday, the Bruins will need secondary scoring to make up for it. Boston's fourth line was superb, holding its own against the Matthews line and producing the team's only two goals of the night. 

Assuming Babcock liked what he saw Monday night, the Bruins should look to capitalize on the matchups given to their second and third lines. David Krejci's trio was given Toronto's third line and Riley Nash got Toronto's fourth line in his return from injury.

Count me skeptical that Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak will be quieted in a similar fashion in Game 4. They are still far superior to their opponent, even if the Plekanec line is more difficult on them than Matthews. 

Yet if and when the Bruins move past Toronto, the Lightning, who do not have the defensive issues of the Leafs, will be better equipped to hang with Boston's best players, home or away. When those nights come, the B's will need more than just the fourth line to pick up the slack.

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Haggerty: East is wide open for everyone, except Devils

Haggerty: East is wide open for everyone, except Devils

BRIGHTON, Mass – It might feel counterintuitive to say this with the reigning two-time Stanley Cup champion placed near the top of the Eastern Conference seeding for the playoffs, but the East should be wide open this spring.

Sure, the Penguins still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan holding it all together on the Pens bench and this postseason’s road to the Cup will undoubtedly go through Pittsburgh. But it would be a Herculean feat for the Penguins to have another long run in them this spring after Cup runs each of the past two seasons and that should make them vulnerable in the Eastern Conference bracket.

Let’s not even get into the choking dogs in Washington, where the mere mention of playoffs makes a little pee dribble down the collective legs of the Washington Capitals. Much as they’ve done every season since Alex Ovechkin came to Washington more than a decade ago, the Caps will again be done before the end of the second round. The latest development with Philipp Grubauer getting the nod in net is just the latest example of everything coming apart in Washington around playoff time.  

Looking strictly at won-loss records one would call the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs the three best teams in the East. Clearly, it makes the Atlantic Division bracket a formidable one. This spring’s first rounds of the playoffs could set up a rivalry between the Bruins, Bolts and Leafs that could be sustained by the team’s talented youth for the next decade in the NHL.

The Bruins were the NHL’s best team for a four-month stretch from mid-November until mid-March and it wouldn’t surprise anybody if that team shows up again in the postseason now that their final 21-games-in-39-days gauntlet has passed.

Either way, the first two rounds of the playoffs should be pretty epic.  

“They are division rivals and they will be for years,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I look at a young Toronto team and I look at a young Tampa team and a young Boston team, and I believe we’ll be going at each other for a long time.

“Now things can change quickly. Just look at Ottawa from last year [where they went to the conference finals], so it can happen both ways. Those [games] can take on more meaning because I think we’re slowly developing rivalries with these teams.”

Where the real rivalries are made, of course, is in the playoffs when divisional rivals end each other’s playoff lives, and where hard feelings develop over the course of a heated, hard-fought best-of-seven series. The bottom line this season is that two very good Atlantic Division teams aren’t going to make it out of that playoff bracket after the second round, and that’s where the long-lasting hard feelings get created.

Conventional wisdom and Vegas oddsmakers would tell you that it will be a Tampa Bay Lightning team with offensive firepower in Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, elite defenseman play from Victor Hedman and top goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy along with solid role players like Ryan Callahan, JT Miller, Chris Kunitz and strong rookie Yanni Gourde.

The breathless Canadian media would tell you that it could be the center of the hockey universe, the Maple Leafs, powered by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander among others, and perhaps Mike Babcock can squeeze a surprise run out of a Toronto team that might still be a couple of years away.  

Whichever team gets out of the Atlantic Division bracket will certainly be battle-hardened and ready for whatever awaits them in the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins would be the heavy favorite to be that team, of course, but one can’t discount the Columbus Blue Jackets, a blue-collar team with elite goaltending. The Blue Jackets would be the kind of team that could step into the gap if both the Penguins and Capitals falter, or if the Philadelphia Flyers have a first round upset up their sleeve in the Battle of Pennsylvania.

We’d mention the New Jersey Devils as well, but let’s be honest...it’s not going to be a Devils team going back and forth between Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider between the pipes. They do have Taylor Hall playing the best hockey of his NHL career and talented young guys Nico Hischier and Will Butcher, but one gets the sense that the Devils really should just be happy to be there.

The bottom line: The Eastern Conference is wide open for just about anybody over the next couple of months except for New Jersey. Let’s be honest, it won’t be the Devils. So, drop the puck for the playoffs already and may the best hockey club advance. 

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Tampa loss a stark reminder B's can't just 'coast through games' at season's end

Tampa loss a stark reminder B's can't just 'coast through games' at season's end

SUNRISE, FL – It sure sounds like the Bruins are going to take plenty away from effectively getting their tails kicked by the Tampa Bay Lightning.   

The Bruins were shut down by the Lightning on Tuesday night as the two hockey clubs pulled into a virtual tie for the top spot in the Atlantic Division with just a few more days to go in the NHL regular season. The goaltending was subpar, the defense allowed some really good scoring chances on top of 17 shots on net allowed in the first period and the offense couldn’t hit the net with any of the scoring chances that they had against Tampa. 

MORE - Haggerty: Rask again leaves a lot to be desired in big game in Tampa

So the Bruins went back to work on Wednesday with a full practice at the BB&T Center, home of the Florida Panthers, and brought with them some ideas and adjustments they can make from a couple of sloppy back-to-back efforts in Philly and Tampa Bay. 

“Some of it might be physical, but I think a lot of it might be mental,” said David Backes. “It’s staying with it, staying with that edge and staying with our game. It’s not something where you flip a coin, flip pucks out to the neutral zone, hope for a good bounce and go get your breakaway to score on it. We need to play the puck management, really get it in there and grind teams down. 

“We have tons of skill where we can make plays off the rush, but that’s not all of our game, that’s only a part of our game. We can grind teams down in their zone as well. That takes a lot of mental concentration and mental fortitude to stay on that shift after shift, night after night. We need to give those guys credit that have done that up to 79 games this year, and the rest of us that haven’t played all those games then maybe it’s our turn to grab the reins and say ‘I can do a little bit more of the work tonight.’ "

MORE - B's admit 'Tampa came to play playoff hockey and we didn't'

Backes mentioned shorter shifts as an area where the Bruins could improve from times on ice that have grown a little elongated and unwieldy recently, and Brad Marchand said the dose of reality handed them by Tampa might not be the worst thing in the world. Certainly being at the tail end of a 39-day stretch where the Bruins have played 21 games is difficult, but the Bruins leading scorer cautioned there was far too much “coasting through” by far too many Bruins players who had worked tirelessly to get the Black and Gold into first place. 

“We have to know that even though we’re a good team and we’re in a pretty good spot, we have to come to play every night. We can’t take nights off. We can’t think we’re going to be able to coast through games because we’ve won games in the past,” said Marchand. “We have to make sure we manage the game the right way and manage pucks at the right times. We didn’t do that last night. We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game and we kind of slept through it a little bit. They were hungry and we weren’t ready to match their tenacity and their game plan, and it bit us in the end. 

“We have to be at our best every night, lay our bodies on the line and give it our all regardless of whether it’s Game 1 or Game 82. We need to be ready for that in the next game. We can’t expect to be down a couple of goals every game and come back, especially against a good team like Tampa. We didn’t deserve to win, and most of the team when you don’t deserve it, then you are not going to win.”

TALKING POINTS: Hedman, Vasilevskiy shut down sluggish B's

Cassidy said he tossed around the notion of cancelling Wednesday’s practice in Florida to give some of his fatigued players some time off the ice, but didn’t want to negatively impact the B’s players that clearly needed the on-ice work this late in the season.

Now the Bruins turn to the still-alive Panthers in the playoff hunt, and should once again be faced with a desperate team as the B’s look for different ways to restore the high level of execution, bank as many points as possible and still win an Atlantic Division they’ve had their eye on for the better part of the last four months.

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