This piece will, admittedly, be a bit harder to write than other morning after posts. When we decided to not cover Game Three due to the wave of boycotts happening in the sports world I was asked to pen this piece the next day. That, in and of itself, isn’t an issue (we all agreed there were more important things to focus on last night). It’s more so that it felt wrong to watch the game and I struggled to maintain the same level of investment as I normally do. That said, I did record and re-watch it this morning.
It still felt weird, but after watching the shellacking Tampa Bay put on Boston I have some thoughts.
As uplifting as this win was, it is an aberration. We shouldn’t expect the Lightning to route the Bruins like this. Jon Cooper stated in his post game presser, “This doesn’t happen in playoff hockey...You turn the page on this one.” Especially since this game got out of hand far sooner than anyone could’ve expected.
Analytically, this game was a mess of score effects. The Lightning had such a big lead so early that it was a given that Boston would have the edge in the metric department. The Lightning only controlled the first period at 5v5, and didn’t even control the quality battle. However, if we take a look at the heat map, it tells a very different story.
This tells a far more direct story than the numbers do. Boston was shooting from a variety of locations, but the Lightning were the team that got into the most dangerous areas.
That said, another boon for the the Lightning come from (finally) converting on their power-plays. Three of six to be exact, thanks to slight adjustments they made.
The first two power-play goals illustrate these adjustments best.
Take note of how Tampa Bay manipulates Boston’s aggression on the penalty kill. The Lightning normally like to take their time and find the perfect shot, and it’s allowed opposing penalty kills to attack them and throw off their timing. Why it took 17 power-plays for the Lightning to adjust, I have no idea, but they finally took the approach of making the penalty killers move and punish them with quick passes.
Additionally, moving Nikita Kucherov to his strong side offers a bevy of options for the star winger to utilize compared to being on his off side.
Ondrej Palat gets a bit of help from Zdeno Chara’s stick on this goal, but it’s the premise behind it all that matters. The Lightning to a more proactive ‘shoot first’ mentality when opportunities presented themselves.
Another layer of the Lightning’s power-play that was utilized exceptionally well was freeing up shooting lanes for point shots. Just look at how much attention Kucherov pulls away from the point. Every Bruins player is fixated on him and are drifting away from Mikhail Sergachev. Kucherov then feeds Sergachev for a one timer and the young defender has a gulf of space to fire this shot.
Prior power-plays, before the adjustment, had Sergachev firing into bodies and legs from an angle, but here he’s near the apex of the offensive zone and is able to drive his shot more accurately thanks to the space he’s given.
Thanks to these adjustments, the Lightning power-play finally woke up and tilted the ice so much in their favor that the Bruins had to immediately go into desperation mode.
Another aspect of the game that wasn’t expected was how quickly Tampa Bay got into the heads of Boston. Normally, it’s the Bruins who rattle their opponents and force them into mistakes due to their style of “heavy hockey”. Well, last night saw the big bad Bruins suffer the effects of the pressure the Lightning were applying to them.
First evidence of Boston cracking.
Why did Brandon Carlo drop the gloves so readily against Anthony Cirelli? Also, why wasn’t he penalized for a blatant unsportsmanlike penalty here? This showed early on that Boston wasn’t in the correct frame of mind in a tie game. It looked like they weren’t able to handle another team being as physical as they are.
Again, I don’t get why Zdeno Chara is trying to pick a fight here. He and Luke Schenn battle towards the net and Schenn takes him down (can definitely see an interference call being called on Schenn here). Chara gets him back immediately and you can see Schenn get up and try to skate off, but Chara has to try and have the last word because he’s a ‘big bad Bruin’ and nobody gets physical with the ‘big bad Bruins’. It’s baffling to me how a team that likes to push around other teams can’t handle having the same physicality brought back to them.
Tampa Bay responded by just scoring more goals on them.
I have no idea what in the world is going on here. Tyler Johnson takes Krug down, again, probably interference, but not a big deal in the middle of a playoff game. Krug holds onto his stick a bit as a “eff you” move which, okay, makes sense from Krug’s position. Then they stare at each other and start to fight? This had me scratching my head as to why it even happened. Luckily, Johnson was okay after falling on his head.
Then this happened.
Again, Boston retaliates after a shoulder to shoulder hit from Kucherov. Kucherov’s hit wasn’t dirty, the Bruins player he hit literally just spun around. But, apparently, since they’re the ‘big bad Bruins’ they have to answer any hit thrown their way. Well, McAvoy got a misconduct for this idiocy, so, I’d call that a win for Tampa Bay.
Last, but not least, the creme de la creme of not handling things correctly.
This game will ultimately be forgotten as the series continues, especially if it goes the distance, but for a team like the Boston Bruins to be rattled that easily and that early in a game that they actually had the edge in before Tampa Bay started scoring, it’s a bit hilarious that a team often lauded for their experience and and composure melted down when having some of their own tactics turned on them.
We’ll see how they respond in Game Four and how the Lightning prepare for it.