Dan Vladar deserved better.
As did Jaroslav Halak.
After pooh-poohing their performance in the round-robin as inconsequential exhibition hockey, the Bruins submitted a mediocre effort in one of the games that counted. They hung their goalies out to dry in a 7-1 loss to the Lightning in Game 3 on Wednesday night. They fell apart and fell behind, 2-1, in this second-round series. Game 4 is Friday.
It was a back-to-back for both teams, but only the Bruins looked like they went to overtime the night before. They finished with 24 shots, lacking push and pace. They allowed the Lightning 31 shots, their defensive structure cracking and crumbling. They put Tampa Bay on the power play six times, letting their dormant man-advantage catch fire (3 for 6).
They were both unlucky and out of sorts. Forever poised Patrice Bergeron took two penalties, including a puck-over-glass minor.
“The response,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, when asked the most disappointing part. “It’s tough. You get behind in this league against a good team, it’s hard enough to catch up. I just think if you look at the regular season, you’re playing three in four [nights], back-to-backs, there’s not a lot of comebacks.
“We lost our composure at times and didn’t do enough to get back in the game.”
Then there was the netminding.
Tampa Bay jumped all over Halak, scoring twice in 15 seconds in the first period, three times on their first four power-play chances, and chasing him halfway through the game. Vladar, making his NHL debut in unfortunate circumstances, was victimized twice on his first nine shots.
Halak finished with 12 saves on 16 shots in 31:18 of work. Vladar stopped 12 of 15 in mop-up duty.
“It was a point where we felt if we need Dan Vladar, maybe this is a better way to get him some work,” Cassidy said. “I had a gut feeling our guys were going to have a tough time coming back from three down.
“I’m glad he got an opportunity to play. I don’t wish him that circumstance … Hopefully he’s better for it if he needs to go back in there down the road.”
After two periods, Boston was down, 6-1, and outshot, 25-16. Two of the goals were the product of bad bounces, two were softies by Halak ... and it’s tough to criticize Vladar for the ones he allowed, given his inexperience and the lack of pushback from his mates.
“We’re going to have to move on from this game,” Zdeno Chara said. “One of those games nobody wants to look at.”
The opening goal looked like one Halak could stop. On the power play, Mikhail Sergachev’s one-time pass to Ondrej Palat was deliberate enough that the netminder could slide over. But Palat’s drive skittered past Halak after it ramped up off Chara’s stick, surprising the netminder and breaking Tampa Bay’s 0 for 16 power-play drought.
The Lightning got that chance after a light slashing call on Nick Ritchie, who traded whacks with Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Bruins caught another bad break 15 seconds after Palat’s goal. Jeremy Lauzon ran into linesman Devin Berg, letting Yanni Gourde cut across the slot and outwait Halak for a roof job.
“The call on Ritchie happens a hundred times a game and we happened to get called for it. Complete disagreement with that,” Cassidy said. “The second goal? I mean, come on. The linesman just runs our D out of room. It’s a free pass to the net … When do you see that play happen in the National Hockey League?”
Bergeron earned a seat when he stuck Palat across the nose 1:18 into the second. Sergachev stepped into a one-timer from 50 feet, beating Halak low glove at 2:14 of the middle period.
“It’s over. We’re going to focus on Game 4 ... 7-1, 2-1, a loss is a loss,” Cassidy said. “I know we have a good group in there. They’re resilient.”
The Bruins got one back at 4:56 of the second. Brad Marchand redirected a power-play feed from Torey Krug with his skates, scoring a goal identical to one he tallied in Game 2 on a David Pastrnak feed. It was Marchand’s fourth goal on seven shots this series.
Alex Killorn made them pay after Charlie McAvoy was too aggressive with Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning forward was quicker to a rebound than Halak, knocking it past the netminder to make it 4-1.
It was Tampa Bay’s fourth goal on 13 shots, and third in four power-play chances.
After standing from his chair, donning his mask, glove, and blocker, and waiting for a commercial break, Vladar entered the game at 8:42 of the second.
Vladar became the first Bruins goalie to make his NHL debut in the playoffs, and the fifth in the league in the last 50 years. The last was the Blues’ Jake Allen in 2012.
Brayden Point roasted Vladar on a breakaway, Killorn cashed a rebound on a bounce off the boards, and Kucherov made it 7-1 by slipping one five-hole after a spectacular dangle by Point.
The Bruins hadn’t allowed that many goals in a playoff game since they coughed up nine to the Sabres on April 29, 1992.
Halak was shown punching the glass with his blocker as he watched Tampa Bay pour it on.