Pittsburgh Penguins

Stunning upset of Lightning leaves wide open East for Bruins or Leafs

Stunning upset of Lightning leaves wide open East for Bruins or Leafs

TORONTO – The Maple Leafs and Bruins are locked in their own first-round playoff series right now, so that’s going to take full and top priority.

Still, there also has to be some private acknowledgment that the door is wide open to advance far into the Eastern Conference playoff bracket now that the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning have been eliminated in a stunning playoff upset.

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning were the first team eliminated after the Columbus Blue Jackets completed the sweep with a 7-3 victory at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Tuesday night. It's also the first playoff series win for the Blue Jackets in their 19-year franchise history. 

The perennial powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins followed suit Tuesday, getting swept in their first-round series by the New York Islanders and further opening up the Eastern Conference bracket. 

Clearly, the Blue Jackets would be a tough opponent in the second round for whichever team advances from the Bruins-Maple Leafs series, but they seem like a far beatable opponent matchup-wise and one who might have unloaded their tank in the emotional sweep of No. 1 seed Tampa Bay.

Certainly, the Bruins know they’ve got their own concerns at this point down 2-1 in their best-of-seven series with a Game 4 Wednesday night in Toronto, but they’re also confident it’s going to bring the best out of them.

“We’ve found ways pretty much all year, so it comes down to that,” said Patrice Bergeron. “You’ll face adversity. It’s just the way it is. That’s what hockey is all about. You have to thrive on it. You try to make the adjustments that are necessary, and I talk about that as a team.”

There’s also plenty more for the Bruins to play for now knowing they could enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not only that, but there’s a legitimate pathway to the Eastern Conference Final, if not the Cup Final, right there if the Black and Gold can find a way to get past a newly battle-hardened Leafs giving them a challenge right now.

It would be a real shame if the B’s fumble away a golden opportunity after wondering all season how they’d managed to push past a juggernaut Lightning team that’s now shockingly one-and-done this postseason. Now, the Bolts are gone, and the coast feels much more clear for the Bruins or the Maple Leafs depending on which team advances in the Atlantic Division dogfight now playing out between the two rivals.  

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What We Learned in Bruins 4-2 loss to the Penguins

What We Learned in Bruins 4-2 loss to the Penguins

Here’s What We Learned from the Bruins 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night that snapped Boston’s epic 19-game point streak.

1. The Bruins loss was a long time coming based on the signs from the last week or so. Sure, the Bruins were still winning games and had enough to take out inferior, probable non-playoff teams like Florida, Ottawa and Carolina. They were getting off to slow starts and falling down by a couple of goals early in the game, and it was sloppy puck management leading to a lot of the problems. The problems come in when you do that kind of thing against a better team capable of putting the game away, and that’s exactly what happened with a Pittsburgh team that’s still battling just to get into the playoffs. Credit the Bruins for closing it again to a goal in the final minute of the third period and continuing to show that penchant for comebacks, but this time around it wasn’t meant to be. Instead the Penguins were able to regain their composure and seal the game with a Jared McCann empty netter in those final seconds of the game. The Bruins deserve credit for putting together the second-best point streak in franchise history with the 19-game mark, but they also have some bad habits they’re going to need to bust out of with a month to go until the playoffs. The big worry is that the Bruins get a little too loose and comfortable at this point with home ice looking like a good bet in the first round, and really no chance whatsoever of catching the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. So the B’s need to get right back on the horse and start playing at the consistently high level they were at during the beginning of the streak, and that’s going to be a challenge given the injuries they’re going through at this point.

PENGUINS 4, BRUINS 2

2. It definitely looks like there’s some rust on Lee Stempniak’s game. It was the 36-year-old veteran that had his pocket picked at the defensive blue line for Pittsburgh’s first goal in the first period. Both Stempniak and David Krejci were a little too casual with their puck management in their own zone during the Pens scoring play, and those turnovers turned into a puck bouncing in off big Nick Bjugstad right in front of the net. Stempniak had no shots on net in 7:52 of ice time on 12 shifts during the game, and really looked like he was having a bit of a tough time playing in the second night of back-to-back games. A lot of this was to be expected given that he hadn’t played an NHL game in just about a year and only had seven AHL games under his belt, so there’s no reason to overreact about the rust level shown. It’s good to get it out of the way now rather than during the playoffs if injuries hit and Stempniak is thrust into the B’s lineup as he is right now with Marcus Johansson, Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak still carrying a lot of offense with them on the injured list.

3. The Bruins fourth line wasn’t great on Sunday night, and didn’t really bring too much energy, puck possession and only had a couple of shots on net from Sean Kuraly that amounted to all of the offensive pressure from their line. They have been excellent for a long time and Chris Wagner was one of the heroes in Saturday night’s win over the Ottawa Senators, but it does raise questions as to whether they’re going to be the same kind of factor in the playoffs as they are in the regular season. One would expect they’re going to be okay once the intensity factor goes up a level in the postseason, but Sunday night was a playoff-style game in Pittsburgh and the fourth line was just okay. So we shall see.

PLUS

*Danton Heinen picked up a couple of assists in a really strong game from the young winger. He took a high stick to the face to make a play setting up David Krejci’s power play goal for the first B’s score and finished with a solid five shots on net in an assertive, strong all-around game.

*Charlie Coyle saw some of his ice time lessen on Saturday because Bruce Cassidy didn’t like what he was seeing around the net, but that was better on Sunday as Coyle finished with an assist, five shot attempts and three blocked shots in a solid effort.

*Pittsburgh youngster Jared McCann had a pair of goals including a shorthanded strike in the second period that hurt the B’s, and then an empty net goal that iced things for the Penguins in the final minute of the third period.

MINUS

*David Krejci had turnovers leading to each of the B’s first two goals allowed, finished a minus-3 and really struggled with his puck management for the first half of the game. He also scored a PP goal as well, but that didn’t erase all of the stuff that needs to be cleaned up.

*Lee Stempniak was limited to seven-plus minutes of ice time and had a turnover at the B’s blue line on the first goal allowed to Pittsburgh in the first period. No shots, no real impact on the game and a lot of rust showing. It’s not surprising, but it is what it is.

*Torey Krug was the other B’s player on the ice for three of the four goals allowed and didn’t have a great weekend in his own zone. 

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Talking Points from Bruins' 4-2 loss to Penguins

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AP Images

Talking Points from Bruins' 4-2 loss to Penguins

GOLD STAR: Jared McCann was an impact player for the Penguins with a shorthanded goal that extended the Pens lead in the second period, and an empty netter that iced things in the final minute of the third. McCann made a great play on the shorthanded score while jumping David Krejci at the offensive blue line, and then turning on the jets for a breakaway chance against Jaroslav Halak. McCann turned on the brakes at the net to outmaneuver Halak and score the pivotal goal. McCann finished with the two goals, a plus-2, four shots on net and three blocked shots in 17:04 of ice time, and gives the Penguins another talented player up front given the way he played in this big game.

BLACK EYE: Torey Krug has good nights, and then Krug has nights like Sunday when he was on ice for three of the four goals that the Penguins scored, and didn’t really register much in the way of offensive pressure either. Krug finished with a minus-3 in over 23 minutes of ice time against the Penguins, and was part of a Bruins power play that didn’t really do enough to either capitalize on their chances or protect against the shorthanded pressure from Pittsburgh. Krug wasn’t alone, obviously, as guys like David Krejci and Brad Marchand struggled with their puck management as well in a game where the B’s looked a little tired.  

TURNING POINT: The game was essentially lost in the first period when a couple of sloppy plays left the Bruins trailing 2-0 to the Penguins, and the B’s were outshot 15-8 by a Pittsburgh operation playing desperate hockey. Lee Stempniak and David Krejci had combined turnovers that led to the first Penguins goal, and then Marchand teamed with Krejci for the turnover that led to a shorthanded second score for Pittsburgh as well. The Bruins had recently gotten away with slow starts like this over the last few games, but they were playing a much better opponent in the Penguins on Sunday that’s desperate for playoff points. The Bruins never even managed to tie the game following that sloppy, mistake-filled start to the game.

HONORABLE MENTION: Danton Heinen didn’t help spearhead the Bruins to a victory, but he did have one of his best games of the season. Heinen picked up a pair of assists, including one play where he took a stick to the face to help set up David Krejci’s power play score in the second period. In all Heinen had the two assists, five shots on net, two hits and two blocked shots in 17:14 of ice time while playing active, assertive hockey. It would seem that setting up the game-winning goal in Saturday night’s win over the Ottawa Senators has again built up Heinen’s confidence in his offensive game, and that can mean good things are in store in the future for the young winger.   

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 – the number of consecutive games the Bruins registered points in prior to dropping the 4-2 game to the Penguins on Sunday night, the B’s first regulation loss since all the way back on Jan. 19.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “X-Rays were negative, may have dodged a bullet.” –Bruce Cassidy, to reporters on Matt Grzelcyk’s right arm after he was forced out of the game in the second period following a hit that pinned his right arm against the boards. 

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