BOSTON -- It's time for the Bruins to be bold, and send out the Black and Gold signal for rookie winger Ryan Donato.
The B's looked "slow" and "stubborn," in coach Bruce Cassidy's words, in a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 at TD Garden Wednesday night. They were outshot for the third straight game in the series, this time by a 37-29 margin, and their forwards haven't scored an even-strength goal since Game 1. They've looked slow while chasing the puck in the defensive zone, and seemed predictable -- and way too compliant -- in failing to get anwyhere close to the heart of Tampa Bay's interior defense in their own zone.
Some of it is about setting for perimeter shots, and some of it is about the Bruins experiencing some real trouble getting through big, strong defensemen like Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi.
"I think we looked slower than them," said Cassidy. "They are a fast team, so we expect them to play fast. I just think we're not supporting each other quickly enough, and then making the appropriate play with the puck to appear faster. It seems like [the puck] is getting turned over and coming back at us, so all of a sudden, now you're chasing it all the time. Well, you expend more energy defending. That was an issue in Game 2. Game 1, we'll write it off because you have a lead, so you're going to be a little more cautious, but the last two games, we didn't play enough of our game.
"They've played their game better than we've played ours (in the last two games), and they've won both . . . We were slow at times, and stubborn. I think we've got to manage the puck better and put it in places, and play the game in front of you instead of forcing plays against a team that can transition quickly and reload well. Once the puck gets turned over, they're working hard to get back up ice, so we've got to make sure we're making the right plays knowing that that's happening and not get stripped. Things like that that have been happening to us too much. [We allow] them to get back in the play, [we] turn it back over, and now we're caught up ice and we're out of sync."
After getting a couple of goals from defensemen in Game 2, and scoring just one power-play goal in Wednesday's Game 3 loss, it looks like the Bruins need an offensive spark. Tampa Bay is dominating puck possession, the scoring chances and the pace, so now it's time for the B's to do what they can to make bold adjustments.
Cassidy already tinkered with the fourth line by replacing Tim Schaller with Tommy Wingels for Game 3, but the dividends were limited at best. So what could be bolder than inserting 21-year-old Ryan Donato -- who hasn't played since Game 2 of the Toronto series -- back into the lineup for a little speed and goal-scoring? It certainly would make perfect sense to put him on the third line into the left-wing slot currently manned by Danton Heinen, who doesn't have a shot on net in any of the three games and saw his ice time drop to just 8:55 on Wednesday.
With no secondary scoring help, the Bruins' offense has been reduced to the Bergeron Line or bust. The third line has been a complete non-factor, with zeroes across the board for Heinen, David Backes and Riley Nash. There needs to be a change with that group, and putting Donato in his natural left-wing position on the third line would be a lower-pressure assignment but still in a high enough spot in the lineup where he can provide the kind of offensive boost the Bruins need to give their top forward line.
It's clearly something Cassidy was kicking around while discussing things with the media after the discouraging Game 3 loss, which put the Bruins behind in the series 2-1.
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"We've got some guys that weren't dressed [for Game 3] that have played well for this team. So we'll have that conversation tomorrow," said Cassidy. "I think it's easier to [talk lineup] the next morning than immediately after the game. Some guys [among the forward group] have had a tough time [and] we need [to be better], whether they stay in or not. If they stay in, obviously, they need to be better."
It was only seven years ago that Tyler Seguin was inserted into the Bruins playoff lineup as a teenage rookie, and he exploded for four points in Game 2 against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals. That helped lead a revived Bruins team to a playoff victory over the Lightning and an eventual Stanley Cup.
Perhaps Donato can provide that same kind of game-changing spark.
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