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Game 4 quick reaction: Balanced scoring makes the difference for the Lightning over the Bruins

For the Bruins, it’s top players or nothing when it comes to scoring. The Lightning are scoring all over their roster.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

What. A. Game.

As I sit typing this right now, the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights game is playing. It followed on my television immediately after Dan Girardi scored an overtime game-winning goal. Let me just say that again. Dan Girardi scored an overtime game-winning goal. For the Tampa Bay Lightning. And it wasn’t into his own net. It was into the Boston Bruins’ net. If you had that prop bet, well done. You have earned your payout.

With the game still fresh, what better time to write out a quick reaction?

Depth and Balanced Scoring

Once again, the Lightning’s depth is shining through in this series. Let’s throw out Game 1 for the moment. The Lightning were coming off a week-long break, while the Bruins were coming off a two-day break. The Bruins were more ready to play and got the better of the Lightning. But since then, the Lightning have been right in the groove. The first line woke back up tonight and picked up two of the Lightning’s four goals. They were supported by the Brayden Point line picking up the opening goal and the third line chipping in with Girardi’s goal to finish out the game.

Here’s the point totals for each forward line for the Lightning since Game 1:

  • First Line (J.T. Miller, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov) - Three goals, Three assists, Six Points
  • Second Line (Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson) - Six goals, Five Assists, Eight Points
  • Third Line (Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde) - Two goals, Three Assists, Five Points
  • Fourth Line (Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan) - No goals, No Assists, No Points.

The second line has been lifting the heavy weight in the series, and they’ve been complemented by goals from the first and third line, though one first-line goal was an empty netter.

On defense, here’s how it looks. Instead of pairs, I’m ranking the defensemen 1-6 based on ice time.

  • Victor Hedman - Four Assists, Four Points
  • Anton Stralman - One Assist, One Point
  • Ryan McDonagh - One Assists, One Point
  • Dan Girardi - One Goal, One Assist, Two Points
  • Braydon Coburn - No Points
  • Mikhail Sergachev - One Assist, One Point

Coburn is the only defensemen without a point and Girardi the only one with a goal. Hedman has been a beast with his four assists in the past three games. But everybody is chipping in. Combine that with the forwards, and you only have four players that have yet to pick up a point in these three games.

Now, contrast that to the Bruins. This one, I’m going to simplify a bit though.

  • Patrice Bergeron - Three goals, One Assist, Four Points
  • Brad Marchand - Four Assists, Four Points
  • David Pastrnak - One goal, Two Assists, Three Points
  • Torey Krug - One goal, Two Assists, Three Points
  • Charlie McAvoy - One Goal, One Point
  • Rick Nash - One Assist, One Point
  • Everybody Else - Zero.

While the Lightning are getting balanced scoring from all over their line up, only the Bruins’ top line, and top two offensive defenseman have been a factor. And then that one assist for Nash who plays on the Bruins’ top power-play unit and picked up his assist there. The Bruins tried switching around some players and getting a couple of better offensive players in tonight with Ryan Donato and Brian Gionta.

It didn’t get the job done for them. Donato is going to be a really good player in this league. But he’s still young and the coaching staff only played him for 12:23 in the game. Gionta used to be a really good player. But at 39 years old, there’s not a lot left in the tank for him and he only played 11:18 in the game. Funny thing is, in his limited ice time, Donato was the Bruins’ second-best possession player when adjusted for score.

The Penalty Kill

The Lightning’s penalty kill has gone back to being an Achilles heel for them. They’ve done the work necessary to shut down the Bruins at even strength. In the past three games, of the six goals the Bruins have scored, only two have been at even strength. Three have come on the power play, and one short handed.

The Lightning made some adjustments for the New Jersey Devils series and seemed to turn the corner. The truth is, though, that the Bruins top line is a far more skilled line than Taylor Hall trying to do everything by himself. The Bruins have the fire power to make you pay on the power play, and they almost made the Lightning pay for their poor penalty kill in this game.

The referees have been all over the board with penalties in this series for both sides. I had a side conversation tonight with a very smart and educated Bruins fan and writer that I respect. He pointed out that up to this game, the Lightning had a 12-5 power play opportunity advantage and that was why many Bruins fans felt that the referees had not been fair to the Bruins. Instead of just saying something off the cuff, I went to look for some reasons that might explain it.

During the regular season, the Bruins had the 17th most minors taken while the Lightning were third. But the Lightning also had the second most power-play opportunities in the regular season. The Bruins weren’t far behind at ninth overall.

That did give me a glimmer of a thought. Both teams are very good possession teams. So what happens when you have the puck? You’re more likely to draw penalties. And that’s been true for both teams in the regular season. The difference in this series has been that the Lightning have controlled puck possession through most of this series.

It doesn’t change the fact that the referees have not been great and their performance leaves a lot to be desired. But it does suggest a possible reason for why the Lightning have gotten more of the power play opportunities.

Dan Girardi