In Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second-Round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Aug. 23, the Boston Bruins played a near-perfect game in winning 3-2. Since then, however, the Lightning have been the better team and are now one win away from eliminating the B’s following a 3-1 win in Game 4 on Saturday which gave them a 3-1 series lead.
Things have gone downhill quickly for the Bruins in the last three games. They dropped Game 2 in overtime on Tuesday night before they were blown out 7-1 in Game 3 on Wednesday. With a chance to tie the series Saturday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, it was more of the same issues popping up for the B’s that have been present in the previous two games.
Here are three takeaways from a frustrating Game 4 loss that has put the Bruins on the brink of elimination.
Breaks Go Tampa Bay’s Way
Teams during the playoffs make their own breaks and take advantage of opportunities given to them. The Lightning did that in Game 4 and it was never more evident than in the second period.
Leading 2-0, the Lightning were given a five-minute power play after B’s forward Nick Ritchie was called for a major boarding penalty after sending Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde into the boards with a check. The Bruins killed the first 4:30 of the penalty, but constant Lightning pressure paid off for their third goal of the game.
Tyler Johnson slid a pass along the ice to Victor Hedman at the blue line and his slapshot deflected off the skate of Bruins forward Par Lindholm and found its way into the net after fluttering in the air over Jaroslav Halak for a 3-0 lead.
At the other end of the ice, the Lightning found breaks go their way as well as the Bruins hit one post in the first period and two more in the second.
Vasilevskiy Outplays Halak
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy continued his dominance of the Bruins this season. He won three of the four regular-season games, and in Toronto, has won four of the five games the teams have played, including the round-robin game on Aug. 5. In Game 4, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner made 29 saves and only allowed a Jake DeBrusk power-play goal at 7:04 of the third period.
Halak, meanwhile, made 23 saves for Boston, but would like to have what turned out to be the game-winning goal back in the second period. With the Lightning leading 1-0 after a first-period goal by Ondrej Palat, it was Palat who once again found the back of the net. Anthony Cirelli collected the puck at the Bruins blue line and dropped a pass back to Palat, who one-timed a shot over the glove of Halak with no screen into the net.
As I wrote before the series began, one key to winning the series for the Bruins was to solve Vasilevskiy. With the B’s struggling to beat him in the last three games, that puts more pressure on Halak.
Palat’s first goal and Hedman’s power-play goal were not Halak’s fault, but if the Bruins are going to be able to get back in the series, he has to make the saves on the shots he sees.
Lack of Discipline by Ritchie Again
When the Bruins acquired Ritchie from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline in February, they were hoping he would bring some toughness to the club. In Games 3 and 4, his lack of discipline has cost Boston dearly.
In Game 3, he took a slashing penalty behind the play that led to a Lightning power-play goal that snapped their 0-for-16 postseason drought. It was the first of three power-play goals in the game for Tampa Bay on their way to a seven-goal outburst.
In Game 4, Ritchie took a roughing penalty after Lightning center Cedric Paquette hit Boston’s Karson Kuhlman from behind into the boards with no penalty called. Ritchie came over to take exception to the hit and was assessed a minor penalty after being the only one to throw punches. In the second period, Ritchie was called for the boarding major for hitting Gourde after he played the puck out to center ice.
One of the two penalties led to a Lightning goal in Game 4, but in the last two games, Ritchie’s lack of discipline has led to three Tampa Bay power plays and two goals. The Bruins have not done a good job of staying out of the penalty box and that has woken up a sleeping giant in the Lightning power play.
Ritchie was a scratch in the final three games of the Bruins first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and after getting back in the lineup in this series, he has not provided Boston with much, other than a lack of discipline.
Tough Road Ahead
Trailing 3-1, the Bruins’ backs are against the wall. They’ll now need to beat the Lightning three times in four days to save their season, beginning with Game 5 on Monday night. After winning the first matchup, the B’s have been beaten by the Lightning in every aspect of the game. Regardless of how it has happened, Boston has to take it one game at a time and see where it takes them.