A measly little round-robin win certainly would have gone a long way toward assuaging the raw nerves of panicky Bruins followers after a shaky first few strides to this year’s B’s postseason run.
The two points might have also kept the B’s in the running for the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference bracket. But that’s not exactly what happened in Wednesday’s 3-2 Bruins loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in the Toronto bubble.
At least there were positives this time around rather than the utter mediocrity the B’s tossed out in each of the first two bubble games, and things to be encouraged about from a Bruins perspective. At the very least, the effort resembled the same Bruins team that amassed 100 points during the truncated regular season, and the same couldn’t be said about the mediocre losses to Columbus and Philadelphia.
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The chippiness factor also elevated against Tampa Bay, and that’s something the Bruins didn’t bother with in those first two meaningless games.
“We wanted to show more passion, more competitiveness than we did against the Flyers. I certainly thought we did that. Some of that is that Tampa has become a natural rival. They’re finding ways to win games at the end against us. We’re going to have to obviously correct that,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I did like that our competitive spirit came out. We got behind, but we didn’t get away from our game. We didn’t lose our composure either or discipline. I thought we kept playing, tried to ramp up the physicality and win a few more pucks.
“[We tried to] create energy in that fashion. Obviously, Torey’s reaction was a hit he thought to Carlo was high, and from behind, so he reacted, just as [Matt Grzelcyk] did later on the hit on [Anders] Bjork. That’s just sticking up for one another. A lot of times that does get a team going and certainly with our team, a group that likes to play for one another. It certainly had an effect on the game and I thought we did get going after that. Obviously scoring a goal gets your group excited. That faceoff goal was a big one for us. We haven’t scored much, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with it as well.”
The Perfection Line looked a little closer to normal and produced a goal after a Patrice Bergeron faceoff win in the offensive zone. Big winger Nick Ritchie threw his size around and played with a chip on his shoulder while crashing into the Tampa net and giving the Bruins forward group the kind of snarl they’ve missed at times over the last few years.
Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara both chipped in to the B’s offense with point shots that did offensive damage.
Tuukka Rask was solid after a soft goal allowed in the first period and made a series of big-time stops in the third period to keep the game tied before a defensive breakdown led to Tampa’s game-winner on the rebound. It was Rask who held things down for the B’s while Tampa Bay outshot them by a 16-9 margin in the final 20 minutes and showed a clear skating speed advantage over Boston throughout the game.
The fourth line continued to be a source of inspiration and energy for the B's as well with Chris Wagner scoring his second goal in as many games while scrapping for pucks around the net. Both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk stepped up and protected their teammates as the smallest D-men on the Bruins roster, and in doing so sparked their teammates.
These were all things to be enthused about from a Black and Gold perspective.
“I thought it was a good effort. Obviously not the start you want, but after that I thought we took it to them and had some pretty good looks, some chances and tied the game up,” said Patrice Bergeron, who finished with an assist and won 18-of-25 draws against the Lightning. “Obviously, you want to give yourself a better chance and go into overtime and find a way. It’s obviously not the result that you want but definitely felt more like [Bruins hockey] tonight.”
The feel-good element was all well and good for the Bruins as they continue an upward progression to their play through the round-robin tournament. Once the real playoff games begin, nobody is going to be too worried about what happened during the round-robin games.
But let’s be honest: The Lightning are a bigger, faster, deeper and more explosive group than the Bruins. Just watching new trade additions Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow become pesky, physical factors against the B’s reminded everybody that they were better trade deadline additions for the Bolts than Ritchie and Ondrej Kase have been for Boston.
At the end of the day, the Lightning controlled play against a “better” Bruins team to the tune of a 35-27 shot on net advantage, and they started and ended strongly with the B’s getting a little more of an advantage in the middle.
The round-robin win for Tampa served as a consolation prize of sorts for the Bruins based on the way Boston played, but it also still feels like the B’s will be hard-pressed to beat the rival Lightning in a head-to-head playoff match down the line. It’s all a harsh reminder that Boston’s run to the Cup Final last spring was paved by both Tampa Bay and Washington bowing out in the first round.
It’s not going to be nearly as fortuitous this time around and it’s difficult to see them advancing past this Tampa team if they do indeed face each other again during this tournament.