The state of Bruins right now is desperate, which is a lot more than can be said about their state of play.
The Bruins were slightly better at times on Saturday afternoon, better than the embarrassing 7-1 shellacking they suffered on Wednesday night, but their 3-1 loss to the Lightning again had them short on goaltending, shorter still on generating effective offense, and shortest of all on summoning the pushback necessary when falling in arrears on the scoreboard while still holding a chance to win a Cup.
Headed into Game 5 of the series Monday night, the Lightning now have three match points in hand, and they have managed that 3-1 series lead with top gun Steven Stamkos yet to play in the series and key defenseman Ryan McDonagh hors de combat for the last three games (all Tampa wins).
All Tampa has done is dominate the series since banging home the OT winner in Game 2 â a scoring imbalance that now stands at 11-2 from the point of that OT winner that evened the series, 1-1.
The Bruins, meanwhile, have the lineup they want, without the results they came to expect en route to owning the NHLâs best record in the regular season.
Remember that 100-point Bruins team that went into forced pandemic hibernation at the start of March? It has hobbled its way here to Round 2 of the Stanley Bubble Cup, but what back in March was a team with the look and precision of a Rolex watch now canât keep up and has both its big and small hands pointed decidedly toward 00:00 time left in the season.
âHow many shots did we have today?â asked a disconsolate-sounding David Krejci. âI donât even know. So I donât know, weâve just to get the shots through â thereâs no excuse for it. Forwards, weâve got to get to the net, find the shooting lanes â¦ all those things, you know, you work in practice and youâve got to show it in the game. So weâve got to get better at it.â
For the record, the Bruins outshot the Lighting, 30-26. Bruce Cassidy made a point of lamenting missed shots, but those were identical for both sides (18 apiece). The Bruins attempted 16 other shots that the Lightning blocked, while the Bruins shut down 13 by the Bolts.
All in all, it was not in the quantity of shooting or getting rubber to the net. In fact, for the Smoot-loving number crunchers in the crowd, the Bruins actually landed a higher percentage (46.9) of their shots (30 for 64) compared to the Lightning (45.6, 26 for 57).
Far more significant was the fact that Tampaâs franchise tender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, turned back all but one of Bostonâs best bids, while Jaroslav Halak again played to his backup billing.
Halak is OK, a solid 35-year-old vet with one good postseason run 10 years ago when he was wearing a Canadiens sweater. Now he is in Black and Gold, 10 years older, eminently competent, but not the guy to buy time, steal a win, filch a series. The Bruins right now need their Fagin in the net.
The spirit crusher came on Ondrej Palatâs clear 35-foot one-timer from the slot that made it 2-0 with 7:31 left in the second. Other than a partial screen out high by Jake DeBrusk, Halak had eyes on it, only for the puck to zip by his raised left glove. Routine stop gone. The playoffs donât allow for that margin of error, even when there is 27:31 remaining in regulation.
âWe need that save,â said Cassidy, who has had to resort to Halak ever since Tuukka Rask packed up after Game 2 of the first-round series vs. the Hurricanes. â[Tampa] is a good hockey club. Weâre not scoring a lot right now. Part of that is our own issue about hitting the net. But theyâve got a good goaltender and a good defense, so every goal matters. That one, obviously, at the time was a big one for them.â
The knockout punch came before the period ended, the Lightning cashing in on a five-minute power play awarded when Nick Ritchie buried Yanni Gourde with a late hit that sent the latter careening shoulder-first into the boards. Cassidy stuck up for Ritchie postgame, but it was a late, ill-timed, ill-delivered swipe that in the regular season would have the Department of Player Safety hauling Ritchie off to the sidelines for at least a game or two.
Once down, 3-0, the Bruins held a 12-6 shot edge the rest of the way, in part because the only urgency left in Tampaâs game was to remain healthy for what could be, if needed, three cracks at deliver the knockout punch and move on to Edmonton for the Eastern Conference Final.
Just like two years ago, in a series that ended in five games vs. Tampa, the Bruins have shown an inability to fight inside the Tampa defense and grind at Vasilevskiy with first, second, and maybe third chances. Their forwards can dart around down low, here and there, but not impose their will, cause havoc, get the Lightning blue liners or Vasilevskiy off their game.
Itâs not over for the 2019-20 Bruins, but unless theyâre holding a different ticket in their game plan, this ticket looks punched.
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