TAMPA – With the chance to essentially clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference within their grasp, the Boston Bruins simply weren’t hungry enough to go out and grab it. Certainly some of it might be about the Bruins coming to the end of a truly taxing six weeks of hockey at the end of the regular season, and a level of fatigue that simply can’t be overcome against a quality opponent.
But one would hope that with home ice on the line through the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Bruins could have come up with a better effort than a 4-0 shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena where they were outshot 17-8 in the first period.
TALKING POINTS - Hedman, Vasilevskiy shut down sluggish Bruins
One might have expected that Tuukka Rask would have been better than the goaltender that gave up a couple of long distance scores in the second period, and effectively put the game out of his team’s reach on a night when his counterpart, Andrei Vasilevskiy, had it going. The first goal allowed in the second period on a long-distance Brayden Point shot that dipped under Tuukka Rask’s blocker was a truly soft, bogus goal allowed by any standards.
"[Rask] has been better. I think he'd be the first to tell you that,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The first two goals were from distance. The second might have been through traffic, but the first one can't go in."
One might have thought that the Bruins would have received better than a combined two shots on net from David Pastrnak, Ryan Donato, Jake DeBrusk and David Backes, but a number of Boston’s better offensive players went silent against a determined, hungry bunch of Lightning players not ready to say die.
But Bruce Cassidy took it as both a sign that Tampa was perhaps hungrier for the two points after previously getting kicked around by the B’s at every turn this season, and that the lesson of Tuesday night’s game was a necessary one for some of his younger players.
"I thought a lot of our young guys got an education on what it takes. I'm not putting this on them, but I'm just saying the experience they gained tonight understanding the urgency level will be very good for them in the long run,” said Cassidy. “We had some 'B' & 'C' games tonight. We really did . . . and not enough 'A' games to beat a hungry team in that type of battle. You saw the game. There were some guys that needed to be better and they weren't. It is what it is. They were harder than us. Give them full credit.”
Clearly it wasn’t all bad for the Black and Gold. Charlie McAvoy led all Bruins in ice time in his first game back after missing the last month, and the 20-year-old actually looked pretty good with strong skating legs despite the knee injury. Brian Gionta had a goal in the second period called back on a high-sticking call, and Patrice Bergeron sizzled the post with a blast from the slot at the end of the first period that could have really swung the momentum in a totally different direction.
At the end of the day, however, it was more than one or two plays that separated the Lightning from the Bruins in their fourth and final meeting of the regular season.
“In the first period they definitely came to play playoff hockey and we didn’t. Those things make a difference at this time of year when others are putting everything on the line and you’re playing on your heels a little bit . . . it makes a difference,” said Rask. “It just wasn’t our night tonight.”
It was Tampa that got the last laugh on the Black and Gold, and pulled into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division with the Bruins holding a slight lead based on their one game in hand. At this point the Bruins have a magic number of five points to clinch the top spot and may have to keep playing hard and winning, rather than resting players, in the final two home games of the season if they truly want the No. 1 overall seed.
But after a couple of so-so performances on the road in Philly and Tampa to start off the month of April, the Bruins might just want to focus on getting their overall game back on track with the Stanley Cup playoffs waiting, ready or not, a little more than a week away.