The NHL regular season is a grind—there will be games where everything clicks and games where things are a little off. That was the story this evening as the Boston Bruins came into Amalie Arena and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2. Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point scored for Tampa Bay. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand scored twice while Anton Blindh scored Boston’s other goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 25 of 29 shots while Linus Ullmark stopped 27 of 29.
The Lightning entered this evening’s game 12-3-0 in their last 15 games against the Bruins, a team they’ve handled in the regular season and playoffs over the past 4 years, but it mattered little this evening as one team looked at the tape while the other seemed off all evening. Games like this happen, but there was an odd feeling during the course of play. The Lightning is normally a stingy team that doesn’t allow a litany of odd-man rushes and keeps their gaps healthy—tonight, it appeared as if every skater was on a different page and even Vasilevskiy wasn’t the world-beater he normally is. Likely, this game will be viewed as a reminder of what this team still needs to address to prepare themselves for the playoffs in a few months.
It didn’t take long for this evening to go awry as Pastrnak scored twice in a span of 6 minutes. His first came from off a long-range shot—that deflected off Andrej Sustr’s skate—that passed by Vasilevskiy to make it 1-0 just 1:11 into the game. The second came from a comedy of errors by Tampa Bay in the defensive zone that provided a microcosm of this evening’s game.
Offensively, the Lightning failed to adjust to the Bruins' aggressive defensive strategy of pressuring the blue line. Tampa Bay’s defense found themselves caught numerous times and the forwards did little to provide any support as they were deeper in the offensive zone. Boston repeatedly neutralized Tampa Bay’s possession game with this approach.
There were moments of brilliance from the Lightning, specifically from the Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov line—Kucherov’s passing and vision haven’t missed a beat, but his shot is still not where it should be; however, too often the rest of Tampa Bay’s forward corps either struggled with puck management, passed when they should have shot, or were too predictable with the puck.
Defensive lapses repeatedly plagued Tampa Bay this evening, and the fact that Boston only scored four goals is a testament to how good Vasilevskiy is; however, the Bruins did a fantastic job capitalizing on their chances as Marchand and Blidh’s goals piled onto the miscues Tampa Bay had.
The Lightning’s most egregious display of poor puck management and decision-making came on a 46 second 5-on-3 that saw them put zero shots on goal, turn the puck over numerous times, and fail to generate enough puck movement to make Boston stray away from their structure. Boston keyed in on Tampa Bay’s tendencies and stuck to their game plan of limiting those tendencies at all times—it worked for long stretches of the game, but the Lightning did manage to find a few kinks in Boston’s defense in the third period.
That said, the hill was too high to climb for the Lightning this evening as Marchand quelled the comeback with a shorthanded empty-net goal.
As valiant as their third period was, Tampa Bay’s poor first 40 minutes did them in this evening. The positive to take from this game is that with some better decision making—which this team is known for—and more time with a healthy Kucherov, the Lightning should be just fine moving forward. Regardless tonight is a “learn from it, improve, and move on to the next one”.