A bit of a fright at the finish, but the Bruins cashed in on a 3-0 lead Sunday night, holding off a late Tampa charge led by Victor Hedman’s two goals for a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semis.
The Bolts too often were loose in their own end, allowing the Bruins room and time around the net. A distinct difference from two years earlier, also in a second-round series, when the Bolts all but cordoned off their own end of the ice with yellow police tape and kept Boston forwards pushed out high and wide.
“I thought we were better than where we were,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy after the win, the Bruins’ fourth in a row this postseason. “We’ve certainly grown as a team since , obviously some different personnel. It’s something you have to do in the playoffs, particularly against a big D core, and we did a better job.”
Keep in mind, noted Cassidy, the Bruins won the opener vs. the Bolts two years ago, then dropped four straight.
“I mean, we won the first game in Tampa,” he mused, “then it didn’t go our way after that. So we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves . . . enjoy this one, but understand what we need to be better. And I am sure they’ll say the same thing.”
Takeaways from Game 1:
▪ The Bruins were better at the inside game right off the hop. They owned a 15-9 shot advantage, and a 1-0 lead, with Charlie Coyle connecting with a low-in-the-zone tip of a Brandon Carlo shot. Coyle was alone above the crease, the Bolts backliners leaving him far too much open acreage. The open acreage became a theme.
▪ Goalie Jaroslav Halak won three straight in Round 1, filling in for the departed franchise tender Tuukka Rask. The Canes didn’t pepper him with shots the way the Bolts can, but that wasn’t evident in the first period. Tampa landed only the nine shots, and really never tested the 35-year-old tender. Halak has now won four straight, the first time he has won four games in the postseason since the spring of 2010 when he was wearing the Montreal CH.
▪ Frustrated on the power play vs. Columbus in Round 1, when they went 0-for-10, the Bolts had one chance with the advantage in the first period (Zdeno Chara cross-check in the opening minute). But the futility remained. They squeezed off only one shot on Halak. They finished the night 0-for-3 on the advantage.
With Steve Stamkos injured, they just don’t move the puck with the same pace, and they don’t make the offensive end of the ice look bigger than a soccer field.
Tampa coach Jon Cooper noted on Saturday that his charges never found their rhythm on the advantage vs. the Blue Jackets, in part because they drew so few fouls from Columbus. He said he hoped to get more chances in this series by drawing more fouls.
To get those chances, the Bolts will have to do a better job of moving their feet. Speed alone won’t guarantee penalties, but it will typically force opponents into stick and obstruction infractions —then it’s up to the referees to blow the whistle, and up to the Bolts to convert their chances. The Bolts didn’t have a single power-play chance in Game 5 vs Columbus.
▪ Tampa didn’t connect on a second-period power play (Wagner infraction), but it did finally find some traction in their offense. After the Bruins made it 2-0 with only 4:34 gone, the Bolts outshot them, 17-4, for the rest of the period. The ice tilted. And the steady-legged Halak handled the vertigo.
“It’s huge,” Coyle said of Halak’s work. “They’re a good team. They’re gonna push. And Jaro was there to shut the door on a number of good chances to keep us ahead. It could be a totally different game.”
▪ David Pastrnak delivered the two-goal lead, snapping home a one-timer from the left wing faceoff dot on a velvety dish from David Krejci from the bottom edge of the right wing circle. Again the Bolts were shoddy in their own end, albeit on a penalty kill, and Krejci had no resistance delivering the cross-slot relay. Krejci’s inclusion on the first-unit PP has been the “find” of the postseason for the Bruins. It highlights his spatial sense and passing skills.
▪ If the Bolts can’t defend more proficiently deep in their own zone, then they’ll have to overcompensate on offense, as they did in the final 15 minutes of the second. But that’s typically not a prescription for success. They are a bit spoiled, given the superlative work of Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, but the Bruins were afforded too many Grade A chances in the first 25 minutes.
▪ Left winger Nick Ritchie, scratched for the final three games of the Hurricanes series, was back in the lineup on a line with Coyle and Anders Bjork on right wing. Neither produced a point, but both looked better in the third period (three shots on net for Bjork). Ritchie delivered five hits, second only to the seven by Joakim Nordstrom.
▪ The takeaway of the night belonged to Patrice Bergeron on Brad Marchand’s goal that made it 3-0 only 1:17 into the third. Ryan McDonagh picked the puck up near his own goal — after great leg work by Marchand getting the puck deep — and was attempting to race up the right side. But Patrice The Thief slipped his stick under McDonagh’s stick, made the quick filch, and swept the puck back toward Pastrnak near the net. Pasta fed a cross to Marchand, who banged home his fourth goal of the postseason. Again, the Bolts were too loose in their own end, and again, they paid.
“He has a gift, the way he reads the game,” said Marchand, assessing Bergeron’s steal. “His stick positioning, his ability to read plays . . . There’s just very few guys in the league that have that ability on the defensive side of things . . . picking pucks, lifting sticks, his back pressure is incredible. That goal was all him. His forechecking a great read, and that’s why he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”
▪ The Bolts, with their 28th shot of the night, finally broke Halak. With 8:50 gone in the third, Victor Hedman connected on a 45-foot snap when the puck squibbed free in the slot. Jake DeBrusk was a hair late to front the shot, and then Hedman’s shot ticked in off Charlie McAvoy. One of the few times the Bruins were sloppy in their own end, and a very alert play by the uber-taltented Hedman to shovel off the shot. Does he ever get off the ice?
Hedman scored again and finished the night with 25:47 TOI, about a minute less than McAvoy.