Playoff hockey, the never-ending rollercoaster of emotion that drives hockey fans insane. The second-round series between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning promised to have goals, saves, hits, and nastiness—it’s delivered that. Game three was the nastiest one yet as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Jon Cooper chose to keep his lineup intact for this game; however, Bruce Cassidy felt as though his team was pushed around during the first two games, so he swapped Tim Schaller for Tommy Wingels. Additionally, Boston’s poor starts were bound to go the other way eventually, and it happened in this game. The first minute of the opening period saw Boston force the Lightning deep into their own zone with an aggressive forecheck.
Tampa Bay weathered this early attack and managed to strike on their first shot. A clearing attempt by Anton Stralman entered the Boston zone where Matt Grzlecyk attempted to settle the puck down. Grzlecyk did settle it down, but he lost track of the puck afterward. Tyler Johnson pounced on the loose puck in the offensive zone before saucer passing it to Ondrej Palat (who skated towards the net as soon as Johnson recovered the puck). Palat lifted it past Tuukka Rask to put the Lightning up 1-0 just 1:47 into the game.
This poor bounce seemed to bother the Bruins. They began to make questionable plays with the puck and uncharacteristically turned it over more often than usual. Tampa Bay jumped on this and extended their lead 1:32 after Palat’s opening goal. After Johnson won an offensive zone faceoff (against Patrice Bergeron), Palat recovered the puck and held it along the right-wing boards. Palat then passed it to Dan Girardi at the point where the defender fired a one-timer that was stopped by Rask. The rebound bounced towards the left side of the offensive zone where Victor Hedman then one-timed it towards the net. During that sequence, Palat motioned himself toward the front of the net where he managed to get a piece of Hedman’s shot. The deflection went past Rask and before the game was even five minutes old, the Lightning were up 2-0.
The Bruins came back with a surge shortly after Palat’s second goal, but they were unable to get anything past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Shortly after Boston’s push, the Lightning had their own surge by forcing a neutral zone turnover. Boston’s Riley Nash tried to interfere with a Lightning forecheck and was sent to the box for this play, giving Tampa Bay their first power-play of the game.
Unfortunately, aside from an in-close chance by J.T. Miller, the Lightning power-play did little to generate chances. Boston’s penalty kill kept the Lightning man advantage out of the slot and happily let them dawdle on the outside of the offensive zone — this became a recurring issue this evening as Tampa Bay failed on another power-play shortly after this one. Once play returned to even strength, it was Tampa Bay was who dictated the pace for the next several minutes.
Issues didn’t arise for the Lightning until the Bergeron line managed to establish themselves late in the period. Their pressure forced Stralman to take a tripping penalty, and this is where the Bruins finally struck. A shot from the right-wing circle by Brad Marchand was stopped by a Lightning defender before bouncing around the slot. A mess of bodies then swarmed for the loose puck before it found its way to Bergeron. Bergeron waste little time as he fired it on net and through the legs of Vasilevskiy to give the Bruins some life—2-1 Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay didn’t relent on their forecheck, however, as they pushed play back into the Boston zone. Just 2:32 after Bergeron made it a one-goal game, the Lightning struck once again to reassert a two-goal lead. Ryan McDonagh fed a pass from his blueline to the Bruins blueline for Yanni Gourde. Gourde entered the zone with speed along the right-wing boards before he pumped the brakes just above the goal line. Gourde looked towards the slot where he saw Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli.
Gourde passed it to Cirelli who fired it on net. Rask made the initial save, but the rebound bounced right back to Cirelli. Cirelli fired his second chance past Rask to make it 3-1 Tampa Bay. With that goal, every rookie/first-time playoff player the Lightning brought into the post season had scored (Point, Gourde, Sergachev, and now Cirelli). It is probably safe to say that Cirelli is not returning to Syracuse anytime soon, he’s been phenomenal as the third line center for the Lightning. He’s had more than a few chances during the first two rounds of the playoffs and it was great to see him finally get on the board.
Tampa Bay continued to control the game as the period wound down, and just like in game two, it was the Lightning who looked like the better team.
Over the last four periods the Boston Bruins had been outplayed by the Lightning and struggled to maintain much offensive zone time. That finally changed during the second period. Boston came at Tampa with an aggression that they had not seen in this series. The Stamkos line had the unfortunate role of trying to tread water as the Bruins top line worked their cycle game in the offensive zone. The Bruins controlled the puck in the Lightning zone for what felt like an eternity (it was about 3-4 minutes of control that Boston had). Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh had to fend off this surge for its entirety—including three consecutive icings by Tampa Bay. Boston did manage to get a few dangerous shots on Vasilevskiy during this surge, but the Russian netminder held the fort down.
As the second progressed, Tampa began to tilt the ice back in their favor with their forecheck. This culminated in another penalty on Boston—this one on Krug for holding. The Lightning power-play went about as well as one could expect—few chances and no goals. Luckily, the Lightning controlled the back half of the period and were able to shrug off their power-play woes with their trademark forecheck (especially from the fourth line).
The most interesting occurrence at the tail end of the period was the fight between Cedric Paquette and David Backes. Backes lined up Girardi for a hit and blasted him into the boards (which he was going to be penalized for before Paquette did a Paquette thing). Paquette lost his mind and attacked Backes. It was a spirited battle between the two, and Paquette managed to make Backes bleed (though that was probably from his visor). Unfortunately, Paquette was given a misconduct for this and sent to the locker room. As for Backes? A boarding penalty and five for fighting—K.
A late penalty on Marchand for slashing (that he vehemently disagreed with, even though it was clear as day that he slashed Stralman’s hand *waits for Bruins fans to complain about Stralman’s slash from game two*) sent the Lightning back to the power-play, but…we know how this goes; few chances and no goals.
The aggression Boston had to start the second was applied to the third as the Bruins pinned the Lightning in their own zone for long stretches of time. Unfortunately for Boston, Tampa Bay’s defense was up to the task as the Bruins struggled to get clean shots on net, and the ones they did get through were swallowed by Vasilevskiy.
Additionally, Tampa Bay’s defensive structure did an outstanding job of limiting Boston’s second or third chances by boxing out the slot and making life miserable for Boston below the goal line (if there was a Bruin below the goal line, he was getting pinned to the boards—violently). Boston’s frustration was showing during the second period, but it was on full display in the third. They became more focused on hitting the Lightning than winning puck battles, and it showed with their uncharacteristically sloppy play. Boston had zone time, but the shots they were putting on net were of low quality. It also didn’t help them that Vasilevskiy played like the Vezina nominee he is.
Tampa Bay withstood Boston’s surge and as regulation winded down they began to limit Boston’s ability to enter the offensive zone. It wasn’t until Cassidy pulled Rask with a little over two minutes left that Boston managed to maintain some offensive zone time. It mattered little as Vasilevskiy stopped everything thrown at him. The game effectively ended when Torey Krug blatantly tripped Anthony Cirelli as the Lightning forward raced after a loose puck. Steven Stamkos scored on the empty net to further ice it and with that the Lightning secured a 4-1 win to take a 2-1 series lead.
Even Strength Dominance
Tampa Bay has controlled this series in every game thus far. They fell victim to some bad luck in game one, but their process was sound; they had to simply iron out some kinks. Games two and three have showcased how dominant Tampa Bay can be at even strength, and they’re being led by Brayden Point’s line. Point, Palat, and Johnson have been key to Tampa Bay winning game two and three. They’ve dictated the pace and have made Boston’s top line look mortal. Tampa’s control at 5-on-5 goes beyond this line, however, the third and fourth lines have feasted on Boston’s depth players and are making the Bruins look like a one line team.
If Tampa Bay can continue this style of play at even strength, then Boston is in trouble. The caveat to this is that Boston is still too good of a team to let this continue. The Bruins will adjust to what Tampa is doing, and when they do their goals will come. It’ll be a matter of how the Lightning react to Boston surging back (because it’s going to happen).
Simply put, Vezina nominee played like a Vezina nominee.
Top Line Woes
The top line of J.T. Miller-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov has had a rough going in this series. They got their first point of the series on Stamkos’ empty net goal, but they’ve been snake-bitten in this series. Kucherov had multiple chances (including a breakaway that Rask denied), Miller had an in-close chance that went wide (you can’t blame him on that one, he had to settle a wild pass down before he could even attempt a shot), and Stamkos set-up a few others.
Boston has clearly made it their mission to shut down this line, and that is a wise move. The issue for Boston is that Tampa Bay isn’t a one line team and doesn’t shirk away from contact. Regardless, the top line not producing is going to become a problem if they don’t start converting soon. Boston’s depth has disappeared for the past two games—it won’t stay that way.
They had some chances, yes, but Tampa Bay is still too passive on the power-play. They hover on the periphery of the offensive zone waiting for a passing lane to open. Patience is wonderful to have, but sometimes the Lightning are too patient and it bites them. It was good to see them get more chances than the previous two games, but Todd Richards has to tweak the man advantage moving forward. Tampa Bay can’t afford to go 0-for-5 on the power-play every game.
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