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Lightning’s slow start sinks them in Game One as Bruins take opening game of the series with 3-2 win

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It wasn’t the start Tampa Bay wanted, but there were some good things to build off of.

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game One Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning are two of the best teams in the NHL over the past few years. They are also two teams who do not like each other. Those two factors alone make for a good series. Game One between Boston and Tampa Bay saw everything fans love about hockey: speed, skill, hits, counter play, and intensity.

It also saw everything Lightning fans despise about playoff hockey: a slow start, poor play, bad penalties, and an ineffective power-play. Boston came out on top to start the series with a 3-2 win at Scotiabank Arena Sunday evening. Brad Marchand scored the game winner while David Pastrnak and Charlie Coyle scored for Boston. The Lightning received two goals from Victor Hedman.

The first period was largely in Boston’s control as the Lightning struggled to maintain much possession in the offensive zone. An early power-play, after Zdeno Chara was called for cross checking just 29 seconds in, saw Tampa Bay struggle yet again to create any kind of momentum. The absence of captain Steven Stamkos’s shooting ability is sorely missed on the man advantage. Without him out there, all opposing penalty kills have to do is focus on Nikita Kucherov due to no other Lightning player having a threatening shot in the left circle.

After the failed power-play, Boston slowly pulled control away from Tampa Bay. The ice fully tilted toward the Bruins after Mikhail Sergachev was called for holding at 11:40. This is where Boston began adding to their shot total and applying more pressure on the Lightning. Tampa Bay did kill the penalty, but it was Boston dictating the pace.

Uncharacteristically, the Lightning’s neutral zone pressure was far more passive than normal. The Bruins were able enter the offensive zone with little trouble and it ended up creating a few dangerous moments for Tampa Bay. The most dangerous coming late in the period where Ondrej Kase took advantage of the Lightning defense falling asleep at their blue line.

It’s not clear what Victor Hedman is doing here, but he sure wasn’t paying any attention to Kase. The issue here was that Hedman, and the Lightning as a whole this period were puck watching far too much and were getting burned by it. This sequence was only the second worst case of it in the opening frame.

First off, Erik Cernak gets toyed with by Marchand on this goal. This just adds to the poor postseason the young defender is having—he hasn’t been his usual self in these playoffs. Second, if Cernak is playing high in the defensive zone then a forward has to play low to cover for him. No one does this and Charlie Coyle has what feels like eternity to line up this impressive deflection. There isn’t much Vasilevskiy can do on this one.

Overall, from an analytical perspective this period wasn’t horrible for Tampa Bay. Boston controlled the shot attempt battle 19-17 (52%), but the Lightning got the edge in quality at 51 percent. However, the Lightning did a poor job in the high danger department with the Bruins generating 6 compared to Tampa Bay’s 2.

The heat map also gives off a forgiving perspective for the Lightning.

5v5 Heat Map, Boston @ Tampa Bay
Natural Stat Trick, www.naturalstattrick.com

The second period, however, saw the Lightning do little to help themselves early on as Boston continued to dictate pace. Their pressure resulted in an early power-play chance for the Bruins as Hedman was called for tripping at 3:08. I mentioned in the Game Five recap against Columbus that Tampa Bay cannot afford too many penalties against the Bruins since their power-play is terrifyingly good.

Well...

Aside from the fact that the Lightning failed to clear the puck on two separate occasions this is a clinic from Boston. The movement by the Bruins is something every team should try to emulate (especially the Lightning). They shift players for different looks, they move the puck around cleanly, and their puck retrieval is outstanding. Here the Lightning is caught puck watching, again, and Cernak is caught out of position, again.

However, shortly after Pastrnak’s goal, Patrice Bergeron was called for holding at 5:50. The ensuing power-play saw the Lightning create some good chances and momentum. They didn’t score on the man advantage, but they appeared to “wake up” with this opportunity. The Lightning started to dictate the pace and forced play into Boston’s zone more consistently. That did not exclude the Lightning from some poor defensive play at times.

Still, Vasilevskiy held the fort down and allowed the Lightning to keep some momentum. Tampa Bay thought they had cut Boston’s lead in half when Alex Killorn scored, but the officials immediately called it off for a high stick from Tyler Johnson.

This didn’t stop Tampa Bay’s aggression though as they continued to attack Boston.

It also caused Tampa Bay to forget about their end of the ice at times.

Regardless, the Lightning kept attacking and forcing Boston into dangerous situations, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task every time. Another power-play opportunity at 13:36 with Chris Wagner in the box for roughing gave the Lightning another chance to get back into the game, but they squandered it with a power-play that couldn’t even enter the offensive zone at times.

To the Lightning’s credit, they kept attacking.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s aggression ended up biting them as Alex Killorn decided to take a bad penalty at 16:46.

The ensuing power-play for the Bruins wasn’t as dangerous as their previous one, but they still controlled the puck and moved it at will. Additionally, Cernak had a scary moment on the penalty kill that luckily didn’t knock him out of the game.

Tampa Bay killed the penalty and resumed their attack. It was something to behold that a team with this much talent took so long to “wake” up and play their game. The fact that Tampa Bay didn’t do it until they were in a 2-0 hole against one of the best defensive teams in the NHL just magnifies the frustration.

It’s doubly frustrating when the analytics come into play. Tampa Bay dominated this period from every facet in the metric department. They won the shot attempt battle 21-7 (18-7 actual shots on net), won the quality battle at 80 percent, generated five high danger chances while only giving up one, and doubled Boston in regular scoring chances (8-4).

The third period didn’t start the way Tampa Bay would’ve liked, at all.

Aside from the fact this is primarily due to Tampa Bay’s aggression and failure to manage the puck appropriately in the offensive zone, there is little reason for this goal to happen. If the forward is gonna provide support down low like Kucherov is attempting here, then some effort needs to be put forward; not just a weak stick check. Also, as great of a move as it is to squeeze Marchand out of the play initially, Cernak follows it up by miserably failing to read the situation in his own end. Instead of following Marchand and taking the fastest route to him after getting up he, for some reason, goes the long way around the net. That leaves Ondrej Palat all by himself to cover a two-on-one right in front of the net. The result is evident on the scoreboard.

To the Lightning’s credit they kept up their aggression, which is good to see, but they still struggled maintaining consistent zone time as the first half of the period waned. It wasn’t until the top line got a fortunate bounce off a clearing attempt that Tampa Bay finally snapped Halak’s shutout bid.

Off all the great chances the Lightning had on Halak, this is the one that finally gets past him. Regardless, the Lightning will take goals however they come.

As the second half of the period waned Tampa Bay continued to attack Boston with relentless aggression. No matter what they threw at Halak he remained steadfast.

To make matters worse, Ryan McDonagh didn’t finish the game.

With 2:29 left in regulation, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker hoping to break through again. Tampa Bay struggled to generate much with the extra attacker as Boston negated their entries by standing up at the blue line and stick checking smartly. But all it took was one icing by Boston for Tampa Bay to gain the control they needed to draw the game to within one.

The final minute saw Tampa Bay franticly push for the equalizer, but ultimately they were unable to find it. Boston whiffed on three separate empty net chances in the final minute as well.

As frustrating as the first 25 minutes were for Tampa Bay, the remainder of the game saw the Lightning push back furiously, but were stonewalled by Halak until late in the game. The third period wasn’t as strong from Tampa Bay in an analytical sense as Boston controlled the shot attempt battle 20-15 (57%) with the quality battle being roughly equal while high danger chances were 4-2 in Tampa Bay’s favor. Additionally, regular scoring chances were 9-7 in Boston’s favor.

There are good things to take out of this game moving forward, but the biggest takeaway is that Tampa Bay has to start on time. It’s been a longstanding issue with Cooper at the helm and it’s cost them games. The Lightning looked unprepared for what the Bruins were going to bring and were uncharacteristically disorganized in their own end. Vasilevskiy was solid this evening, and it’s hard to place blame on him for any of the goals.

If history tells us anything, it’s to not overreact. The last time these two teams met in the postseason (2017-2018 season), Boston won Game One with their “Perfection Line” dominating play. Tampa Bay won the next four games and Boston’s top line failed to score another goal at 5v5. Obviously, the realistic expectation shouldn’t be on Boston’s shooters going frigidly cold and Tampa Bay winning the next four, but one game doesn’t make the series (unless it’s Game Seven). That said, the Lightning have to make adjustments heading into Game Two or they’re going to have a very short series on their hands.