Two games into their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the B’s know they have themselves a series now tied 1-1 and they also know that they have some work to do with their group of defensemen.
The Bruins dropped Game 2 in overtime by a 4-3 score after the Lightning outshot them by a 39-25 margin and attempted more shots by an 85-54 count that really showed things were pretty one-sided from a puck possession standpoint.
Certainly, there were things to pick apart, whether it was the lack of secondary offense from everybody beyond the top line not named Charlie Coyle, or some of the goals allowed by Jaroslav Halak in an iffy performance.
But the biggest issue in the wake of the overtime loss was the overall play of the Black and Gold defensemen group.
The immediate issue was the play of the B’s blueliners out for the final overtime shift as Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and the fourth line couldn’t execute on a handful of clearing attempts that could have killed Tampa’s momentum. Carlo had the puck behind the Boston net with plenty of time and space and blindly rimmed it up the boards where it was picked off by the Bolts, and that preceded a number of lost battles that kept the puck in the B’s defensive zone.
Ultimately, Ondrej Palat swatted the loose puck in at the far post to beat Halak and win the game, but it was Carlo's clearing decision that was sticking with the Bruins coaching staff after the game.
“We had a puck alone behind the net [and] you know we just rimmed it to nobody, so that needs to be better. Then we recovered on the wall and tried to make a play through the middle and that got picked off, we didn't get it out,” said Cassidy. “I just think we need to manage the puck better in those situations. We didn't and it has cost us at times in the playoffs, but you know it started with the decision to rim the puck when there wasn't a lot of pressure. It’d be a nice time to put out a fire and make a clean play.”
The Krug/Carlo pairing was in the crosshairs early in the game as well when Tampa Bay defenseman Zack Bogosian split them both during an unexpected rush into the offensive zone and then flipped a pass to Blake Coleman for the Lightning’s first goal. Both Krug and Carlo waved at Bogosian, but once again didn’t really do enough to shut the play off before it ended up hurting Boston with the puck at the back of the net.
But it’s also about the other end of the ice as well. While Victor Hedman had a pair of goals in Game 1 and Bogosian and Shattenkirk were key playmakers in two of Tampa Bay's goals in Game 2, the Bruins D-men haven’t been playing proactively enough to generate offense for the Black and Gold.
Krug has just one even-strength assist in seven playoff games in these first two rounds and only has two shots on net in the two games played against Tampa Bay thus far in this series. Zdeno Chara has zero points in seven games, zero shots on net in the series against the Lightning and is a minus-3 in the playoffs to this point. Charlie McAvoy has generated excellent offensive chances thus far in the postseason and had a couple of assists in the Carolina series, but he was as quiet as he’s been in the Game 2 loss to Tampa Bay.
Matt Grzelcyk has zero points in the seven games and has managed more than one shot on net just once in the seven games played against the Hurricanes and Lightning this postseason. And then there's Carlo, who has one point in the postseason and was one of the problem areas for the Black and Gold in their Game 2 loss.
The only D-man on the B’s roster who has a postseason goal is bottom-pairing guy Connor Clifton, who wasn’t even in the lineup at the start of the first-round series against the Hurricanes. Given that the Bruins are playing an aggressive, offensive-minded Lightning crew on the back end in this series, it’s an area where Boston needs to step up and play more productively against the rival crew from Tampa Bay.
“I think our whole D corps has a lot more to give on the offensive side of things. We’re not asking [them] to lead the rush, but we need plays from them when they're there at the o-zone blue line,” said Cassidy. “Tampa is collapsing [to the net], so we need point shots that are tippable or can create rebound situations. I think we're capable of more absolutely. If you look at our whole playoffs, we have one goal from Clifton [from the defensemen], a real nice play from behind the net against Carolina.
Now we need more... in general I think [the defensemen group] is capable of more offensively. We got to get them to where they’re contributing every night in that regard. I mean it's defense-first for us. We’re one of the better defensive teams in the league for a reason. Those guys are very accountable, they eat pucks, [have] good sticks, [play] physical, take hits, [and do] whatever they need to do. But on the offensive side of things I think the whole group is capable of more.
Now that they have been sufficiently called out by their head coach, it will be up to the B’s blueline crew to step up and be difference-makers in Game 3 set to be played Wednesday night from the Toronto bubble.