The Boston Bruins are one loss away from exiting the Toronto bubble after losing 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of their second-round series.
GOLD STAR: Ondrej Palat has been a killer in this series for the Lightning. Palat scored each of the game’s first two goals and gave Tampa Bay a lead it wouldn’t relinquish in the first couple of periods. The first goal was a nice play where he cruised to the front of the net and found a spot in the interior B’s defense before converting a pass from Brayden Point, while the second goal was a one-timer that beat Jaroslav Halak’s glove hand for a crushing 2-0 lead.
Palat finished with the two goals and a plus-2 rating in 18:42 of ice time while putting up five shots on net, one hit and three takeaways in a stellar performance. Palat has been an absolute Bruins assassin in this playoff series with four goals and six points in four games.
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BLACK EYE: The Bruins have circled the wagons for Nick Ritchie, but his mistakes were unforgivable in this game. He jumped Cedric Paquette – a guy who’s looking for him to do exactly that before he turtles and draws a penalty – and landed in the penalty box after pummeling him, then hit Yanni Gourde far too late with a dangerous hit away from the boards that earned him a five-minute major.
The Lightning scored on that power play to take a 3-0 lead that the Bruins couldn’t surmount. That’s two games in a row where Ritchie’s lack of discipline has hurt the Bruins and dug them a hole against a superior Lighting team that’s taking advantage of every chance Boston is giving them.
I expected Ritchie to be benched in the third period, but instead Bruce Cassidy kept rolling him out there and covered for him after the game. I guess the B’s are all-in on Ritchie at this point.
TURNING POINT: The Bruins were still locked in a 1-0 game in the second period and showed signs of taking control of the game, but then disaster struck in the form of Tampa Bay’s second score, a soft goal on Halak.
Nikita Kucherov fed Ondrej Palat with the saucer pass and Palat smoked a one-timer under the bar that Halak simply missed with his glove-hand save attempt.
It was a gut punch for the Bruins that pushed them down by two goals and was followed less than two minutes later by Ritchie bludgeoning Gourde with a late hit that put the B’s shorthanded again. Once that sequence happened, it was game over for the Bruins and probably series over with the B’s down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
HONORABLE MENTION: Hand it to Jake DeBrusk for being the only player who was able to light the lamp in Game 4. DeBrusk scored on a nice play shooting through an Ondrej Kase screen to make it a 3-1 game in the third period, but that’s as close as the B’s would get after the power play score.
DeBrusk finished with seven shot attempts and was pretty engaged while playing the body and using his skating legs throughout his 14:45 of ice time.
The second line was at least a little better in Game 4 while generating some chances. For the second game in a row, however, the Tampa defense was able to stymie the Perfection Line and pretty much bottle up Boston’s offense just as it did in the teams’ playoff series a couple of years ago.
BY THE NUMBERS: .899 – the save percentage for Jaroslav Halak in this series vs. Tampa Bay, which is not going to get it done.
QUOTE TO NOTE: « We’ve just got to get shots through. There’s no excuse for it.” – David Krejci, in a very terse postgame press conference in which he was clearly upset at being down 3-1 to the Lightning again a couple of years after the Bruins lost to Tampa in five games.
The Black and Gold plummeted to a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series with a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday afternoon, and now have no room for error.
This series has been eerily similar to the second round playoff series two years ago, when the Bruins won the first game and then couldn’t muster anything against a Lightning club that blew them off the ice with four straight wins.
It feels like we’re all going to see the same movie again on Monday night in an elimination Game 5.
Obviously, the setting is different, with all the Eastern Conference players quarantined in Toronto due to COVID-19. And the Lightning are playing seriously shorthanded with Steve Stamkos and Ryan McDonagh as significant missing presences that have both been injured for the bulk of the series. But so much remains the same, including Tampa’s strengths of depth and skill, and Boston’s sheer inability to score even strength which has been their downfall in each of the last three postseasons, including this one.
After Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak were the driving forces behind the offense in the Game 1 win, they have been effectively contained during even strength play just as they were two years ago vs. Tampa Bay’s big defenders. Bergeron has zero points in each of the last three games and just five shots on net, Marchand has just one even strength point and four shots on net in each of the last three games and Pastrnak has just one even strength assist in the last three games, despite 13 shots on net.
Pastrnak missed a wide-open net in the third period after a sweet Bergeron dish that could have eventually made it a one-goal game late in the third period. Those kinds of missed opportunities are killers against Tampa Bay and make it feel like it’s just not going to happen for Boston.
Overall, the Bruins have just two 5-on-5 goals over their last three games, and that’s not going to cut it against Tampa Bay. That was going to be part of the message to the B’s players headed into Game 5, but it sure feels like it’s a little too late at this point.
In a must-win Game 4, Bergeron, Marchand and David Krejci combined for two shots on net and Jake DeBrusk’s power play goal in the third was Boston’s only source of offense.
That’s just not going to cut it regardless of what’s going on with the defense and the goaltending.
“We had an opportunity to even the series. The other day I do feel those games happen from time-to-time where the other team is better and they take advantage of opportunities, and they keep getting opportunities and taking advantage of them. I don’t think we had our legs in Game 3. This one I thought we did, we had our energy level and we were competing hard, winning our share of races, winning pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “To score goals we have to hit the net more often and force him to make saves and control rebounds. We’re just off net with too many good chances today.
“They got another opportunity to build on their lead with what we feel is a questionable call [on Nick Ritchie], they did it. They took advantage of it and that’s what good teams do. It put us in a bigger hole and we started working our way out of it, but if you’re going to put yourself in a hole you got to score goals to win games. We weren’t able to do that.”
The killer in the Game 4 loss was Jaroslav Halak whiffing on an Ondrej Palat one-timer under the bar in the second period. Palat got a good piece of the saucer pass from Nikita Kucherov, but Halak saw the shot and was able to lift his glove hand to make a futile save attempt. The puck glanced off Halak’s glove and into the net, and the Bruins were down 2-0 in the second period after playing pretty well in the middle 20 minutes.
In the series, Halak now has an .899 save percentage and has given up close to a handful of goals on shots that need to be stopped. It’s pointless to ask what would have happened if Tuukka Rask was in net for the Bruins because that’s not going to happen in this series. But one of the few areas where the Bruins might have had an advantage — goaltending — is now another department where they are now inferior to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Cassidy was asked postgame what his message would be for Game 5, and it was mostly about fixing the many problems that he sees right now.
“We had some breakdowns in front of our net early on, and we have to correct those and need to be harder. We need to be more assertive in those areas. Guys that we rely on to be hard defensively, good awareness, checking players get scored on the first goal. We didn’t manage the puck again. It usually starts there,” said Cassidy, of the fourth line getting scored on by Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point yet again. “You turn pucks over against Tampa, it starts there. You have to be more assertive with your feet before you move a puck and take some ice. That one came back at us.
“After that I thought we were better at that. We’ll always talk about the things we do well and correct the things we don’t. I thought the penalty kill is a good example, we did a good job. This is two games in a row we’ve blocked a shot that [ends up] in our net. [That] just doesn’t happen over a long period of time. So some puck luck is not going our way, but having said that, they are a shot-mentality team, and if we had that mentality too maybe we’d get some of these breaks where pucks go in off people. That will be a bit of the message, as well.”
None of this even gets into the fact that teams aren’t coming back from big deficits like this in the bubble because thoughts of home begin to creep into players’ heads at this point. The Bruins have been away from their families for six weeks and many of Boston’s key players have young families that they’re understandably missing right now.
That kind of situation is going to chip some of the resolve away from a hockey club that’s down big in a playoff series.
“It’s all a mentality. We have to regroup and focus on one game at a time. People have been in worse situations and come out on top,” said Charlie Coyle. “We just have to take it this one, one game at a time. Focus on that next game. That is all we can control right now.”
It’s a nice sentiment from Coyle, but it’s not about mentality when it comes to the Bruins and Lightning. Tampa Bay has clearly shown in the last two postseason meetings they are a better hockey club than the Bruins, and they are doing it again this series.
The only question now is how many games it will take and what the Bruins are going to do about a better team in their division blocking their way these days.
It’s clear after four games that something needs to change with the Black and Gold, because it’s not good enough right now. And they may have a long upcoming offseason to think about it.
It stinks that we keep dwelling on Nick Ritchie, but when you tell the story of the 2019-20 Bruins, he will unfortunately be a major, major part of it.
When the Lightning made real upgrades at the trade deadline, the Bruins got Ritchie. When the lineup had questions, the Bruins stuck with Ritchie. And when the season was on the line, that stubborn commitment cost them.
It isn’t Nick Ritchie’s fault that the Bruins saw him as an answer. It isn’t his fault that, after showing he was not that answer, the Bruins doubled down and kept him in the lineup.
This is more on Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy, both of whom are good at their jobs, than it is on Ritchie, who at this point is not good at his. You should have expected more from the Bruins’ decision-makers.
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Let’s revisit the trade, which in many ways doomed the Bruins’ season. The Bruins approached the trade deadline with the best record in hockey, but obvious issues at wing. They needed a right wing for David Krejci and at least one serviceable option for the third line. Danton Heinen was a solid player having a down year; he needed to be the third best player on that third line.
Short on cap space, Don Sweeney sent a first-round pick and a prospect to Anaheim for them to take most of David Backes’ contract and send Ondrej Kase back. That gave the Bruins a useful body at wing.
Then on deadline day came the head-scratcher. Heinen to the Ducks for Ritchie, a top-10 pick in 2014 who hadn’t lived up to expectations but had size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) that would have attracted teams in past versions of the NHL.
Ritchie had eight goals in 41 games for the Ducks, which was impressive at first glance, but clearly an outlier given that Ritchie’s shooting percentage (11.4) was way higher than his career average entering this season (8.3). He’d also just scored two goals the day before the trade, which helped disguise a not-very-good season as a good one.
Nevertheless, the Bruins took the bait on Ritchie and, in an effort to upgrade from Heinen, downgraded. Who knows what could happen, though? Maybe a change of scenery would benefit the player and uncover something he hadn’t been.
Plus, the deal saved money given that Heinen makes just over $1.3 million more a year than Ritchie. Ideally, the Bruins could have used John Moore or somebody else to create more cap space, then had a trade partner retain money on an established winger, because really, Kase and Ritchie were both question marks.
Maybe it’s because Heinen is kind of a boring player and maybe it’s because Bruins fans incorrectly think they lost the Cup last year because of a lack of physicality, but the Ritchie acquisition was celebrated. It should have been met with skepticism.
Since he’s been in the lineup this postseason, it’s been clear that Ritchie was not a useful piece. After Game 2 of the first round, the Bruins scratched Ritchie, an apparent sign that they’d seen enough.
Yet when the second round began, Ritchie was back skating to the left of Charlie Coyle on the third line. Maybe it’s because Sean Kuraly, used in Ritchie’s place to end the Carolina series, wasn’t healthy enough for the heavier lifting of third-line duty. Maybe it’s because Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka provided questions of their own.
Whatever the reason, the Bruins went back to Ritchie and stuck with him. He jammed in a goal in Game 2, but his contributions mostly ended there. A bad retaliatory slash in front of two officials led to the Lightning scoring Game 3’s first goal, then Ritchie provided what might have been the final blow to the Bruins’ season when he threw a late hit on Yanni Gourde in the second period of Game 4.
« I had no intent to injure anybody » Nick Ritchie talks about his hit against Yanni Gourde pic.twitter.com/69tJNrAha0— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) August 29, 2020
« I had no intent to injure anybody » Nick Ritchie talks about his hit against Yanni Gourde pic.twitter.com/69tJNrAha0
With Ritchie in the box serving five minutes for boarding, the Lightning scored to make it 3-0 and put the game — and likely series — out of reach.
After the game, Cassidy vehemently defended Ritchie, saying the hit wasn’t that bad. We can agree to disagree on the severity of the hit, but there is not debating the penalties have been costly. Ritchie takes penalty, other team scores. That’s how it’s worked the last two games.
This is cruel to the guy. I’m sure Ritchie wants to work through these struggles, but it’s seemingly only getting worse. It would have been best for all parties if the Bruins recognized it hasn’t worked and sent Ritchie back to the press box.
Maybe they’ll do it for Game 5. It should be obvious, but given the Bruins’ commitment to the player so far, maybe they really will go down clinging to him.
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