Five things that went wrong for Bruins vs. Lightning
The Bruins lasted longer in the postseason this year than they did last season, and journeying into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs really can’t be viewed as a disappointment through the scope of a B’s year that was always devoted to the Youth Movement. Still, it would have been nice to see them push to six or seven games in the second round against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that was clearly better than them, and possibly get that one last home game this week as a final “thank you” to the Bruins fans that have been outstanding all season.
Any time a team loses four games in a row during the playoffs it means some things went seriously haywire, and that’s something Bruce Cassidy admitted when he said things got away from them in the middle of the Tampa series.
“They were going to have their moments when they were better than us, and you saw that,” said Cassidy. “At times we got a little bit individual, especially the last few games because we were having some trouble. Guys wanted to do a little more instead of sticking with the program. I think the two games you really look at where Game 3 we weren’t very good, and in Game 2 we didn’t really play our game. Those two games for sure, I didn’t think we stuck with it enough.”
With Cassidy’s thoughts in mind, here are the five biggest reasons why things went wrong for the Bruins against the Lightning:
1) Lack of even strength scoring and offensive zone pressure
The Bruins didn’t have a forward score a 5-on-5 goal after the first game of the series, and didn’t score any even strength goals at all after the first two games of the series. So it became a Bruins team solely reliant on the power play – and an occasional shorthanded goal – for all of their offense, and that isn’t going to be enough to beat a quality team like Tampa Bay. As expected the Lightning did a much better job than Toronto containing Boston’s top line, and the second line completely disappeared after Rick Nash’s two goals in Game 1. Further on down the lineup, Cassidy was forced to mix and match his third and fourth lines midway through the series because he wasn’t getting enough from either one. It really was desperate straits when Cassidy called upon Brian Gionta to step in for the Bruins in Game 4, and the desperation was punished when the Tampa’s OT game-winner went in off his skate. The Bruins need to get a little bigger, stronger and grittier up front because they really couldn’t do anything to fight through the tall trees on Tampa’s defense: Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are all big boys, and they kept the Bruins forwards far away from the net with few close shots and pretty much zero second and third chance opportunities. That was a big factor behind Boston’s offensive blackout after the first few games of the series.
2) Brad Marchand licked the lick, but couldn’t walk the walk
If you’re going to become a firebrand for controversy like Marchand did when he licked Ryan Callahan’s face like an ice cream cone, then you better be able to back up the heat with some quality play on the ice. With all of the stuff swirling around Marchand headed into a Game 5 elimination situation in Tampa, Marchand was completely ineffective and even worse pretty invisible. Marchand didn’t even register a shot on net in Boston’s final game of the season, had a couple of giveaways and was whistled for an embellishment call after a run-in with Victor Hedman in the corner. For a player that once again garnered some level of Hart Trophy consideration during the regular season, Marchand needed to be better in that big spot for the Black and Gold. Marchand was held without a goal by the Lightning in the final four playoff games after a four-point effort in Game 1, and was a minus player over those four straight losses for the Bruins. It’s one thing to pull antics like Marchand if you’re producing and playing like a beast, and it’s quite another if the only thing you’re really accomplishing on the ice is notoriety by licking your opponents. Marchand wasn’t the reason the Bruins lost, but he wasn’t able to elevate his game against the Lightning either.
3) Screwed by the referees
Once again this wasn’t the reason that the Bruins lost the series, but it certainly played a key role in a couple of devastating losses for the B’s in games that could have gone either way. We won’t even dwell on the fact that officials went from not kicking Patrice Bergeron out of the face-off circle at all in Game 1 to throwing him out of offensive zone draws six or seven times in Game 2, and then back to not really throwing him out of the circle at all for the rest of the series. It was totally different from the way things were handled during the regular season, and frankly it’s a shoddy way to treat one of the league’s best players in Patrice Bergeron. But it was more about the calls that really impacted wins and losses: The non-slashing call to Marchand’s hand on a breakaway in the third period of a one-goal game that could/should have been a penalty shot, and the non-holding call on Charlie McAvoy on a turnover behind the Boston net that led to Tampa’s game-tying score in the third period of Game 4. Both were no doubt penalties that directly impeded Boston’s ability to win those games, and the Bruins finished the series at a 19-12 deficit in terms of power plays awarded to each team. The sad part is that the on-ice officiating in the Tampa/Boston series wasn’t that much worse than any of the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs where there’s been a lot of bad, bad calls. It will be interesting to hear how much Don Sweeney holds his tongue in his season-ending comments because the Bruins definitely have a legitimate gripe with the referees.
4) Rick Nash didn’t live up to his billing as a big trade deadline acquisition
The Bruins paid a ton in assets for the big right winger from the New York Rangers, and were banking on him being able to step up as a secondary scoring force behind the Bruins top line. Instead in the first series vs. Toronto it was rookie Jake DeBrusk that stepped up and filled that role, and then it was two goals in Game 1 from Rick Nash and then absolutely nothing in the four games afterward. The Bruins didn’t have much in the way of size or strength in their players up front aside from David Backes and Rick Nash, and neither one of those big boys did nearly enough to fight to the front of the net during 5-on-5 play. Nash finished with three goals and a rough minus-7 rating in 12 games for the Bruins, and had one assist and a minus-4 rating in the four losses to Tampa as their even strength attack went into the toilet. Certainly the 33-year-old will find NHL employment somewhere as he hits unrestricted free agency on July 1, but it won’t be back with the Bruins after playing to the outside far too much for a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder that should have been more of a force around the net. I guess we all see now what those in Columbus and New York already knew about Nash in the big games of the playoffs, and part of this offseason plan for the B’s will be seeking out a younger, better power forward version of Nash to complement Krejci on that second line.
5) Bruins' back-end problems vs. Tampa's pressure
The Bruins defense struggled in a major way breaking the puck out of against the fast, aggressive Tampa fore-check, and that got even worse once they lost Torey Krug in Game 4 with an ankle injury. It was clear they were missing him both 5-on-5 and on the power play in Sunday afternoon’s Game 5, and it was also readily apparent they could have used a healthy Brandon Carlo in the series vs. the Lightning as well. Instead the Bruins were forced to feature Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller way too much where their puck-moving and first pass attempts weren’t always good against the speedy, Tampa group, and where any defensemen pairing below Zdeno Chara/Charlie McAvoy struggled to hold up their end of the bargain. It was Matt Grzelcyk’s rattled turnover in the early stages of Game 4 that helped pave the way for Boston’s slow start in that game, and once again showed a moment where the Boston back end struggled amidst the pressure. Once it got to a point where B’s defensemen like Grzelcyk were simply trying to skate it up all by themselves it was clear that Boston’s players were trying to do too much individually, and that the constant pressure from the Tampa Bay fore-check had the B’s back enders shaken and stirred. What’s interesting is that McAvoy seemed to handle the Tampa pressure best as he got stronger and stronger with each game in the series, and his 26 plus minutes in Game 5 showed that his game was in a really good place at the time of Boston’s elimination. With Torey Krug getting injured late in each of the last two seasons for the Bruins, it’s high time the Bruins brought in another front line left side defenseman to lighten Krug and Chara’s load a little bit.