It’s no secret that Tampa Bay and Boston were the two best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. It is also no secret they were bound to meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The first game of this highly anticipated series took place this afternoon with the Boston Bruins drawing first blood in a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa Bay started the game matching the Palat-Point-Johnson line up against the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak to limit their impact. The first half of the opening period saw the Lightning dictate the pace. Their trademark forecheck harassed the Bruins defense and forced a handful of turnovers deep in the offensive zone.
Unfortunately, the Lightning only managed a scant amount of dangerous scoring chances on Tuukka Rask as the Bruins defense quickly recovered from the pressure. Sticks, legs, and bodies were all thrown into the passing and shooting lanes to stymie the Lightning shooters. This isn’t to say Tampa Bay didn’t break through to put pressure on Rask, they did, however, it was the exception rather than the rule early on.
Leading the way in the first period was the top line of J.T. Miller-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov who controlled 60% of the shots during the first period. Only three players on the Lightning were below 50% for the first period, while the rest of the roster pushed play in the other direction. As positive as that sounds, it was Boston who struck first late in the period on the man advantage. After Ryan Callahan was called for tripping, the Bruins scored eight seconds into their power-play as Rick Nash deflected a David Pastrnak point shot that sneak between Vasilevskiy’s legs.
The atmosphere of Amalie Arena quickly evaporated into aggravation. The Lightning were the better team in the opening period, but were snake bitten by Tuukka Rask. Boston still had some dangerous chances, but they struggled to transition from zone to zone as the Lightning forecheck applied pressure on them. When Boston did enter the offensive zone, they left an impression and made the Lightning defense scramble several times.
As the first period closed, the Lightning trailed 1-0 but had the better of play. All they had to do was stick to their process and eventually Boston’s defense would crack.
That process that I previously mentioned? Yeah, that went out the window within the first minute of the second period—which was an interesting one to say the least. Boston’s top line went to work on the forecheck and forced the Lightning defense to play passively against them. David Pastrnak had the puck low along the right-wing boards where he was assessing his options. Pastrnak skated towards the net to draw Anton Stralman towards him and once the Swedish defender went down to block a pass, Pastrnak simply saucer passed it over Stralman to a wide-open Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron one-timed it past Vasilevskiy to make it 2-0 just 42 seconds into the period.
Tampa Bay didn’t stop, though. The Lightning quickly forced play back into Boston’s zone and 1:49 after Bergeron made it 2-0, an unlikely hero stepped up for the Lighting—Dan Girardi (eagle screams). Cedric Paquette carried the puck into the Boston zone and managed to fend off two Bruins as he jostled himself around the boards—he literally made a giant U along the boards in the offensive zone. Once Paquette made it to the right-wing boards he passed it to Girardi. Girardi then simply fired a wrist shot on net that deflected off Matt Grzelcyk and over Rask to give Tampa Bay some life.
The next several minutes saw both teams control play. Tampa Bay had some dangerous looks, but too often they either over-passed or missed the net with their shots. As the midway point of the period arrived, Tampa Bay began to tilt the ice with a string of strong shifts, but as was the case in the first period, Rask stood tall. Boston thought they had increased their lead after a Brad Marchand one-timer beat Vasilevskiy, but the play was called dead due to a cross-checking penalty by David Pastrnak. He was battling with Tyler Johnson along the left-wing boards where Johnson took a few shots at Pastrnak. Pastrnak’s retaliation was penalized in this case.
The ensuing power-play saw the Lightning create some dangerous chances, but more often than not, Tampa Bay held onto the puck in the faceoff circles trying to find cross zone passes for one-timers. Just to rub salt in Tampa Bay’s wound even more due to their inability to capitalize on their pressure, Rick Nash scored his second goal of the game on a shot that Vasilevskiy should’ve had. Yes, he had Stralman and Krejci blocking parts of his vision, but you can see Vasilevskiy looking through their legs to see Nash. Rask had bodies in front of him all evening and was able to make saves, Vasilevskiy must do the same.
Seconds after the Nash goal, Jake DeBrusk took an interference penalty to put the Lightning back on the power-play. This time, the Lightning scored on their opportunity after a wacky sequence of events. After a shot was saved by Rask, Brayden Point went to whack at a rebound and ended up hitting Rask’s left skate. Somehow, that whack knocked the blade out of Rask’s skate. Play continued as the Lightning controlled the puck, but Rask had signaled to the referee that his blade was out of his skate. The official appeared to hesitate on blowing the whistle, and shortly after this interaction the Lightning scored on a Mikhail Sergachev point shot. The goal was a huge one for the Lightning but left a bad taste in my mouth.
The NHL rule states that the official will not call the play dead for equipment malfunction unless it’s a goaltender’s helmet coming off. So, in that regard, it was the correct call. Still, it felt odd to have it called that way given that Rask literally couldn’t maneuver properly.
Regardless, the score was 3-2 with the Lightning dictating play and forcing the Bruins to defend far more than they would like.
Tampa Bay had stuck to their process for two periods and even though the results weren’t there, they were still outplaying Boston. The third period? An absolute mess for the Lightning. They had a strong first minute or two, but the Bergeron line struck once again as Marchand tipped a Charlie McAvoy shot to put the Bruins up 4-2 3:32 into the third.
This goal is what noticeably broke the Lightning’s resolve. They continued to push the Bruins, but their passes became more erratic and they began to turnover the puck in all three zones. Eventually, the Bruins got their chances after Tampa Bay controlled play and like they had done all game they converted.
Bergeron scored his second of the game off another one-timer after Marchand made a nifty move to keep the puck alive above the faceoff circles. Marchand staved off pressure from Kucherov and Ondrej Palat as he carried the puck down the right side of the offensive zone. Bergeron read the play immediately and moved himself from in front of the net to the high slot. Stralman didn’t keep up with him and Marchand fed a beautiful pass to Bergeron. Next thing you know, it’s past Vasilevskiy and the score is 5-2.
A late power-play for the Lightning provided little pressure until Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy—yes, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy during a power-play with more than seven minutes left in regulation. Tampa got zone time, but little pressure on Rask. Once the power-play ended, Cooper kept Vasilevskiy on the bench and Jake DeBrusk scored on the empty net to make it 6-2.
The remainder of the game saw the Lightning keep the pressure on Boston, but the result was already decided. Boston remained disciplined in their own zone and closed out the remaining minutes to draw first blood in this best of seven series.
They Outplayed Boston
For 43 minutes, Tampa Bay outplayed Boston. They had zone time, shots, pressure, and possession but it meant little as Tuukka Rask had an outstanding game. There is some talk of Steven Stamkos not “showing-up” in the playoffs, but those same voices are awfully quiet when Stamkos and his line was peppering Rask with shots and creating chances. Sometimes you outplay the opposing team and lose, and that is exactly what happened today.
Tampa Bay’s third period wasn’t good, but they didn’t stop attacking Boston when they had the chance. Are there adjustments that the Lightning need to do to try and mitigate Boston’s top line? Absolutely, but let’s not overreact to this game. The Lightning played well, but were victimized by the Bergeron line being the Bergeron line. Completely shutting that line down is implausible, but limiting their impact is, and that is what the Lightning need to do moving forward.
The process was there, the results weren’t—for game one.
As I previously mentioned, Tampa Bay controlled most of this game. However, small mistakes led to goals. Ryan McDonagh’s weak pressure on Pastrnak on the first goal (he was hurting from blocking a shot, but few will accept that as an excuse), Tyler Johnson lost Marchand on the fourth goal, Stralman was slow in reacting to Bergeron on the fifth goal, and the list goes on.
This was one of those games where the opponent doesn’t get a lot of chances, but the ones they do get are golden ones that they convert on.
Again, adjustments will be made for game two. Cooper’s coaching staff is too smart to not adjust.
Let’s hear what you have to say!