While the Boston Bruins were good during the regular season coming back after letting their opponent get the first goal, knowing that they could recapture the game, the playoffs are an entirely different level of hockey. The Bruins didn’t just let the Tampa Bay Lightning have one goal, no within the first 3:19 of the game they were in a two-goal hole.
The first goal was the result of a misplay by Matt Grzelcyk, who fanned on a puck, allowing Tyler Johnson to feed it onto the stick of Ondrej Palat and it’s 1-0 Bolts just 1:47 into the opening period on their first shot on goal. Ninety-two seconds later Palat gets his second of the game, and the Bruins are on their heels. And to get out of such a hole requires a team to tighten up and ensure their passes connect and that they are defending their zone; none of which happened for the Bruins.
“I think we didn’t defend well enough, personally. First period, we had a misplay of a puck early on. That happens to anybody. You’d like to be able to put a fire out, defend the two on one better, or get a save, but at the end of the day, they make a good play from it,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy after the game.
Throughout much of the first period Boston’s passes didn’t seem to be passes so much as just moving the puck somewhere else on the ice. It wasn’t really clear if they were simply miscommunicating or if they were forcing the pass because Tampa wasn’t giving them much space. The turnovers were certainly a problem and leading the team on Wednesday night was Brad Marchand who has taken to passing—or trying to pass—instead of taking a shot on net in recent games. In Game 3, Marchand had four giveaways and only three shots on net.
“You’ve got to manage the puck first, and then once you don’t have it anymore, you’ve got to have a certain level of structure and urgency to get it back, and we didn’t,” Cassidy continued.
Managing the puck was definitely a struggle for Boston as was staying out of the box. Torey Krug got two penalties, with his second coming at the end of the game with 1:28 remaining in regulation. Such a play cost the Bruins any chance of going six-on-five with an empty net. The one positive that could be taken from the six penalties called on Boston was their ability to prevent Tampa Bay from capitalizing.
The one goal that the Bruins did realize Wednesday night was while on their only power play. Patrice Bergeron managed to get it past Andrei Vasilevskiy 29 seconds into the man advantage, showing that Boston’s special teams continue to function well.
“They score right away again because we’re not hard enough in front of our net – tie up sticks. Now, that’s a problem. It’s two-nothing, we’ve got half of that back, and then again, we’re not hard enough in front of our net, so now it’s two goals again,” Cassidy shared. “I think the second and third goals, to me, are much worse in terms of losing our – what was the word you used? Losing our zip or whatever word you use. Yeah, took the wind out of our sails.”
And indeed, as Anthony Cirelli got his first playoff goal of the season—becoming the 23rd rookie this season to do so—with 3:17 remaining in the first period, he took the crowd out of it and allowed the Lightning to gain a momentum they never really gave up throughout the rest of the game.
“Yeah, you know, they had a bit of momentum after getting that goal, but you know, we didn’t really back down.,” Cirelli said of his goal. “We just kind of stuck with our game plan and, yeah, I guess it’s pretty important. Whenever we’re scoring goals and going up, it’s always good for us, but at the end of the day, you know, it was a team effort.”
Just as Grzelcyk’s misplay of the puck allowed Tampa to get their first goal, Cirelli’s inability to clear the puck during the Bolts penalty kill allowed Bergeron to cut Tampa’s lead in half. However, Cirelli went out and fought hard to make a solid play shortly after that to regain the extra space in the lead and reverse the momentum Bergeron’s goal had given the Bruins.
“Okay, so we have the good start. Boston gets the power play, we win the draw, we don’t get it out. Cirelli’s got it on his stick even though he doesn’t and they end up scoring. And so here you have a young kid, feet are barely wet in the NHL and now the score is 2-1 and who responded after that?” Tampa Bay’s head coach Jon Cooper said after the game. “He didn’t shy away from the moment or sit back and say ‘Oh, I wish I had gotten that and maybe they wouldn’t have scored.’ He just went out there and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to will my way to score a goal.’ And that right there said everything to me about that kid. You can’t guarantee that he’s going to score, but his attitude and he wants to belong and be a part of this team. He’s been accepted by the team because he does all these little things right and I was so pumped when he scored that goal.”
Tampa Bay is a fast team and the Bruins will need to limit their ability to skate into the offensive end. Boston needs to get back to playing the game that allowed them to advance to the second round. They can’t let Tampa get in their head. Puck management is going to be critical as is better defensive decisions in front of Tuukka Rask. If they can get back to what they were doing in the first game of this series, they will take Game 4.