The “big bad” Boston Bruins came to Amalie Arena this evening looking to make the sizable gap in the standings look a little more appealing as the season winds down. The Tampa Bay Lightning have nothing of significance left to play for. They’ve secured the top seed throughout the postseason and are essentially playing for pride and history; a shot at the all-time wins record is still in the realm of possibility. A back and forth battle saw the Lightning defeat the Bruins 5-4 in a game that saw horrible turnovers, flukey bounces, great transitional play, and big name players stepping up. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 13 saves in the win while Tuukka Rask made 23 in the loss.
The opening period saw the Lightning control the pace as their forecheck and speed gave Boston trouble. Through the first 20 minutes, the Lightning controlled 58% of the shot attempts at 5v5, but only led by a single goal. For all the pressure Tampa Bay was putting on Boston, the Bruins still did a great job keeping a lot of traffic out of the slot. It didn’t matter much as Steven Stamkos made sure of that just 6:42 into the period.
Forechecking and smart passing made this happen (also Boston forgetting to cover one of the best goal scorers in the league). Stamkos starts this by tying up Noel Acciari along the left wing boards before Adam Erne rings the puck around the boards for Mikhail Sergachev to recover it. Sergachev then baits the Bruins defender toward him before feeding a backhand pass to Ryan Callahan (he noticed Callahan cycling below him right as he retrieved the puck). Then Callahan makes a gorgeous cross zone pass to Stamkos at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. No idea how Acciari completely leaves Stamkos alone or how neither defensemen in front of the net realize he’s all alone. Nonetheless, Boston’s brain fart is Tampa Bay’s prize as the Captain scored his 40th of the year.
Boston started to get some of their legs back after the Stamkos goal and an odd man rush ended up gifting the Bruins a power-play after Nikita Kucherov was called for hooking at 7:28. How Kucherov getting beat cleanly on the outside and him waving his stick to the side of David Pastrnak is hooking I have no idea. It was as ghost of a penalty as I’ve seen this season.
Of course, Boston wastes little time capitalizing on this opportunity.
Boston’s puck movement here is fantastic. Even with the puck bouncing around they still manage to get it where they want. Also a great heads up play by Pastrnak to feed a pass across to Brad Marchand. Victor Hedman should’ve been more aware of where Marchand was, but the play was chaotic with Braydon Coburn tying up Jake DeBrusk one moment and then Patrice Bergeron the next. Sometimes you just get burned by great plays and that’s what this really boils down to.
Boston’s play started to pick up a bit more after tying it, but they were largely kept to the perimeter of the offensive zone. The Lightning were making it difficult for the Bruins to sit in the slot, and even when they did get a body there the puck was quickly turned out of the defensive zone.
Tampa Bay’s pressure eventually landed them an offensive zone faceoff with 5:11 left in the period where the Captain showed the Bruins how terrifying he really is.
J.T. Miller makes this play. The faceoff win by Anthony Cirelli is a great start, as are the passes everyone makes on this play, but without Miller being patient with the puck in slot with three Bruins around him is key. Watch Miller as he rotates to the top of the faceoff circle and then back into the upper slot to fit into a soft spot of Boston’s coverage. That move enables Stamkos to feed him the initial pass. Then he settles the puck down and looks to see Sergachev wide open at the right point with Danton Heinen sticking to him.
From Sergachev it goes to Hedman, and from Hedman it goes to Stamkos and then into the net. There’s only one other one-timer in the league that terrifies me more than Steven Stamkos’—41 goals never looked so good.
Penalty trouble sunk the remaining minutes of the first period with Miller sitting for hooking and then Alex Killorn joining him 46 seconds later with a tripping penalty. Tampa Bay managed to survive the 5-on-3, but still had 32 seconds of Killorn’s penalty to kill entering the second (they killed it off with little issue).
Whatever momentum Tampa Bay had from a strong opening period was thrown out the window for much of the second. Boston dictated the beginning and middle part of the period even with the Lightning controlling 57% of the shots at 5v5 (the Lightning’s control happened after they were trailing). There was a chance for Tampa Bay to extend their lead with their first power-play of the evening after Karlson Kuhlman was called for holding at 5:05, but what ensued was one of the worst displays of a power-play we’ve seen this season.
Tampa Bay couldn’t enter the zone effectively and repeatedly threw the puck away at awkward times, which made it easy for Boston to quickly kill the penalty.
Boston’s pressure eventually led to a mistake from the Lightning, this time from Sergachev, as Charlie Coyle scored his second goal in a Bruins uniform.
Brutal turnover by Sergachev here—that’s the sole reason for this goal. Yes, David Backes pokes it, but Sergachev is smart enough to have realized he needed to knock that puck either toward the boards or back down low. Trying to carry it out there was just a bad decision.
Just five minutes later Boston would capitalize on a transition play.
Alex Killorn misses the puck to keep it in the offensive zone and off go the Bruins on a 3-on-2. Brandon Carlo wrists one past Vasilevskiy who looks to be screen by both Cirelli and Hedman here, but it’s still a shot he should’ve saved.
But wait, there’s more! Less than a minute later, Marchand gets a gift from the hockey gods to make it 4-2.
Boston’s only real threatening line strikes again. Pastrnak makes this play happen with a great puck retrieval down low before feeding it to Marchand in the slot. Vasilevskiy makes the save but fails to track the puck as it drops directly on the goal line and bounces off his skate and into the net to give the Bruins a two-goal lead. This is about as flukey as they come, the puck was airborne for about three seconds before it came back down and no one really knew where it was before it was too late.
After this goal, Tampa Bay finally decided to wake up and play their game as they dominated the final five minutes of the period. Tampa Bay thought they had gotten a goal back when Miller rang a slap shot on net, bu replay showed that it went off both posts and never crossed the goal line. Playing poorly for 75% of a period is a prime way to throw a game away and it appeared as though the Lightning were going to do just that after 40 minutes.
You know, there are times when the Lightning so thoroughly outplay a team that it makes you wonder how bad a game would be if they did that for an entire game. The final 20 minutes of this game saw Tampa Bay punch Boston in the face and never look back. They controlled 65% of the shot attempts and 66% of the scoring chances at 5v5. The only times Boston looked threatening were during the first five minutes of the period and the closing minute.
Boston’s one dangerous opportunity early came off transition where they failed to convert on a 3-on-2. Tampa Bay came right back with a breakaway of their own and managed to capitalize.
First, why is Brandon Carlo taking this shot for Boston? Two, how does he miss the shot that wide from that close? Three, it’s pretty pathetic that no one from Boston manages to out-hustle Hedman to the loose puck after Stamkos misses his shot wide. Four, I have no idea why Rask doesn’t look to see who is coming—he looks at the puck and then back to his right from some reason and completely misses the 6’6’’ 223 pound Swedish defenseman flying into his zone.
From here on out it was all Tampa Bay. They managed to get a four minute power-play shortly after Hedman’s goal with Pastrnak sitting for hi-sticking Ryan McDonagh. Tampa Bay then promptly did nothing with the man advantage except display a passive approach that saw them overpass, make poor decisions, and fail to maintain any kind of consistent pressure on the Bruins.
Luckily, it didn’t matter as Tampa Bay went right back to dictating the game at 5v5. There was a golden opportunity for Boston to extend their lead with Pastrnak firing a one-timer off a 3-on-2, but Vasilevskiy was there. Then Tampa Bay counter attacked as Stamkos fed a pass off the boards onto the stick of Kucherov.
Then Kucherov decided to make one of the dirtiest snipes you’ll ever see.
Good lord that goal is a thing of beauty. Mind you minutes earlier on the four minute power-play Kucherov had a great chance in the slot before trying to pass it to Stamkos and turning it over. I think my reaction was fitting.
Oh so NOW you decide to shoot it.— Matthew Esteves (@mattestevesSBN) March 26, 2019
Nonetheless, this goal is going to be stuck in my mind for a while. The velocity, the accuracy, the celebration afterward—Kucherov was all about this one.
Tampa Bay continued to push Boston around and pinned them in the offensive zone for extended periods of time which eventually led to a hooking penalty on Charlie McAvoy at 17:02. The Lightning failed to convert on this power-play, but their pressure maintained afterward as Anthony Cirelli provided the dagger immediately after the power-play expired.
Great set up, great passing, and a great shot—a thing of beauty and a comeback complete. Boston would try to push back but an idiotic penalty by Brad Marchand at 19:21 sealed their fate (how fitting).
Boston hyped up their 4-1 win from a few weeks ago as a “statement” game for them. Completely ignoring that Tampa Bay was on a back-to-back and starting their backup goaltender. The Bruins hadn’t faced Vasilevskiy since the postseason last year—Louis Domingue played Boston the first two times. Now, Boston will decry about injuries and ignore the ghost penalty on Kucherov and the fluke goal Marchand scored in the second period.
The fact is, outside of Boston’s terrifying top line, the Bruins aren’t that scary. They’re still a good team, of that there is no doubt—their fantastic structure and adherence to it has helped buoy their overall lack of offensive production—but the “big bad” Bruins they are not.
We’re gonna take a different approach tonight, folks. I want to hear what your thoughts are on this game. You tell me what the Good, Bad, and Whatever is—from your perspective. I’m automatically dismissing officiating (there’s enough complaining about that)—give me insight into your mindsets and analysis.