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Game 3 quick reaction: Lightning proving capable of playing a strong defensive game

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Good.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I’m back for another quick reaction, this time following a 4-1 win by the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Boston Bruins in game three of the series. The win gives the Lightning a 2-1 lead in the series and gives them home-ice advantage back. The team will also have an opportunity to come back to Amalie Arena for game five with a chance to close out the series if they can take Friday night’s game four in Boston.

So I present you with some of my thoughts and reactions to game three.

Anthony Cirelli

It felt like Cirelli played a lot more than the 11:44 TOI he had in Wednesday’s game. With Cedric Paquette in the box for 17 minutes serving his instigator misconduct penalty, Cirelli took extra shifts in the third period with the fourth line in Paquette’s place. Cirelli averaged 14:51 TOI in five games against the New Jersey Devils, but since this series started he’s only averaged 12:10. He is very sound defensively, but Jon Cooper seems to have decided to keep his ice time and responsibilities down a bit against the Boston Bruins.

But what a great sight that was to see him get his first career playoff goal. He took the pass right in front of the net from Yanni Gourde and whiffed on the shot. And he didn’t give up: Cirelli never gives up. He shot the puck, it got stopped. He shot the rebound and would not be stopped as the puck deflected off of Tuukka Rask’s pad and into the back of the net. It’ll be interesting to see if his ice time goes up in the coming games.

Ondrej Palat

So I talked the other day about Palat and Tyler Johnson taking it to the Bruins “Triplets style” with their cousin Brayden Point. They continued that last night. Palat’s first goal with Johnson jumping on a Bruins mistake and then finding Palat on the far side of the net for the one touch shot into the net was classic Triplets. Even the second goal was very reminiscent of the Triplets, with Johnson winning the faceoff, cycling the puck around, picking up rebounds, and Palat going to the front of the net for the redirect. That was classic and this line continues to produce.

It’s also telling that the Bruins started out by sending the Patrice Bergeron line against Steven Stamkos and his linemates to start the game. With the Point line taking advantage of the lesser match-up they’d been gifted, the Bruins were forced to put the Bergeron line back on the Point line, giving the Lightning the match-ups that they had wanted to deployed for in the first two games.

Mikhail Sergachev

It’s obvious that the coaches don’t trust Sergachev in tough defensive situations against the Bruins. Game one is when he got the most ice time, with a lot coming in the third period, since the Lightning were trailing. In game two and three, he’s gotten a good bit less ice time and is averaging about 10 minutes of even strength ice time per game. He’s mostly been out on the ice with the fourth line followed by the first line.

Sergachev’s possession numbers have looked really good against the Bruins just as they did against the New Jersey Devils. He’s yet to be on the ice for a goal scored at 5v5 for either team. If he can keep playing the way he has in his limited ice time, it feels like one is going to go in for him or his teammates at some point.

Bruins Fans

It’s been really interesting watching Bruins fans these past couple of games. I see a lot of complaining about the referees, and I get it. Game two in particular was atrocious for both sides. Game three I thought was a much fairer-called game. Every penalty that was handed out, I had no argument with and couldn’t complain about them. They were legitimate penalties. There were some calls that got missed or went uncalled, but that always happens.

Bruins fans out there are frustrated. The team is getting dominated, they don’t know what’s wrong, and are reaching out to find reasons why, so they’ve grabbed on to the referees. I’ve been guilty of that before, so I quite understand where they are coming from.

The reality is that the referees have not cost the Bruins either of the past two games. When their top line can’t score at even strength, their depth is completely failing them. Of their nine goals scored in the series, only three have come from players not on the top line or their top two defensemen (Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy).

Aside from those three goals, only one has been scored at even strength, and one was an empty netter. That’s four goals between Bergeron and Brad Marchand and a goal apiece for Krug and McAvoy. Rick Nash picked up his two goals in the first game of the series, but has been quiet since then. The past two games their three goals scored have come from McAvoy, Krug, and Bergeron.

And this leads into my next section...

Puck Possession

It’s very interesting to see this role reversal in the series. Coming into it, the Lightning were talked about as an offensive juggernaut. The Bruins were the best defensive team in the league. How could the Lightning’s high-powered offense fare against the Bruins’ system-oriented defense?

Well the answer is, the Lightning are actually a lot better defensively than they’ve been given credit for. They were in the top ten in most of the important advanced statistics columns. The one place where they seemed to do poorly was allowing shots to get to the goaltender.

I’ve talked with our resident stats expert, loserpoints, on this subject a few times in the past months. We’ve been wondering if it’s just a fluke that the Lightning aren’t blocking a lot of shots and opponents are also not missing a lot, or maybe it’s something the Lightning are specifically trying to do to keep opponents to the low danger areas, and allowing them to shoot from there where Andrei Vasilevskiy should make the majority of those saves?

Or maybe it’s just an aberration in the data and isn’t really repeatable and actually means nothing.

All stats below come from Natural Stat Trick. All numbers, unless otherwise noted, are 5v5 Score and Venue Adjusted.

As it’s turned out, not only are the Lightning’s offensive capabilities up to the task of making it through the Bruins’ defense, their defense has been sufficient to shut down the Bruins. The bottom two lines have been caved in at even strength. The second line hasn’t been much better. In fact, the only Bruins’ players with a positive Corsi-For Percentage is their first line of David Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron.

McAvoy has been the Bruins’ biggest offensive driver from the blueline, but he’s also given up the most shots on the ice. To say the least, the game is fast-paced when he is on the ice. Zdeno Chara gives up the second-most shots while being their fourth-best defenseman in producing shots when he is on the ice. Interestingly enough, Chara is not been on the ice for a goal against at 5v5.

If you look at the unadjusted numbers from game three, it looks a little ugly for the Lightning, only controlling 45% of shots attempts in the second period and 25% in the third period. But that was also while they were defending a two-goal lead. When you score and venue adjust the numbers, they change to 52.61% and 31.2%. That third period number still isn’t great and you’d like to see them defend more by being in the offensive zone, but they got the job done. Overall for the game, the Lightning go from 44.55% CF% without adjusting to 51.71% after score adjusting.

So what exactly is score adjusting and why do we do it? If you want to dive deep into the subject, wander over to Hockey Graphs and read Micah McCurdy’s article on the subject. For the brief overview, here we go:

In the simplest terms, when a team is leading, they give up more shots. When a team is trailing, they take more shots. What score adjusting has done is modeled out how many extra shots a team is giving up or taking during particular leads or deficits. It also takes into account not just what period the game is in, but what minute it is as well in adjusting the numbers. Venue adjusting goes a step further to help determine biases that may be in effect in certain buildings in the league.

Conclusions

It was fantastic to see the Lightning come out in game three with a quick start. They took the lead and didn’t give it back. The only goal they gave up came on a Bruins power play and required a scramble where Vasilevskiy was not set and ready for a shot and it had to get past several bodies to find the net.

I’m sure the Bruins will be coming out with some line-up changes in game four to try to find something that will work. It’s on the Lightning to keep playing the game the way they have been and taking it to the Bruins. They have an opportunity to take a commanding lead on Friday in Boston. If they can’t manage that, it’s not the end of the series, as it will still be 2-2 and the Lightning will need to win two of three while having two games at home.