There are a lot of positives to take out of the Tampa Bay Lightning winning both games against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden. For Tampa, this was a true breakthrough moment after they have struggled to find competent play (let alone victories) while playing in Boston. As noted by Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times:
The Lightning have won in Boston six times in 26 seasons. That’s 6-31-5 — including four overtime/shootout losses.
Needless to say, history was not in favor of the Lightning heading into Game 3, yet they found a way to set the pace by scoring two goals early in the first period of both games. This gave the Lightning room to breathe in their five-on-five play, allowing them to shut down the usually pesky Bruins. In fact, if not for some special teams struggles, these last two games have been some of the best from the Lightning all season.
Lightning Dominating Five-On-Five Play
The single number that showcases just how good the Lightning were throughout Game 3 and 4 is zero. After allowing seven five-on-five goals in Game 1 and 2, Tampa Bay has not surrendered an even-strength goal since.
Simply put, this sudden turnaround in even-strength play is far and away the biggest contributor to the Lightning’s 3-1 series lead against Boston. The Bolts have largely been able to shut down all depth scoring from Boston, forcing them to get their offensive production from their top-line forwards. While this is inarguably one of the best scoring lines in the sport, there is only so much that they can do to keep up when Tampa Bay is able to produce four goals each night.
This incredible play leads to a question, though. After holding Boston off the scoreboard for the majority of their even-strength play the last two games, how much better can the Lightning be if they can fix their struggling special teams?
Penalty Kill Is Killing the Lightning
It is well known that the Lightning have had a weak penalty kill throughout the regular season. By the end of the year, they ranked 28th overall, only killing 76 percent of penalties. Things have only gotten worse for the Bolts in the playoffs, with their penalty kill now giving up goals 25 percent of the time. While the Lightning’s offensive prowess has been able to cover for their poor penalty kill in the past, it has almost cost them multiple times in this series.
After taking a quick two-goal lead in both Game 3 and 4, Tampa Bay took an ill-timed penalty towards the end of the period that gave Boston not only a goal but life in the game. This was especially prevalent in Game 4 when the Bruins were able to score a second power-play goal to tie the game in the second period, which brought the home crowd fully into the game. Even though they were able to weather the storm and only give up the single goal in the period, it still broke all of the Lightning’s momentum from the first period, setting themselves up to potentially drop a game that they were leading.
Lightning Power Play Failing to Close out Games
The struggles of the Lightning’s penalty kill has been exacerbated by the fact that their power play hasn’t been playing at full form in this series either. While they scored a key goal in Game 4, they also allowed a short-handed goal against in the third that very well could have cost them the game. This has been an issue for the Lightning over the last three games, as they have only registered three power play goals against the Bruins in thirteen tries. If you remove the empty-net power-play goal from Game 3, this total falls to two goals in twelve chances or roughly a 16.7 success rate.
Even if Boston had the third-best penalty kill in the NHL this season, the Lightning still need to provide better pressure while on the man advantage in order to close out games. The short-handed goal against in Game 4 was not the first time that the Bruins had dangerous scoring chances despite being down a man, so this is becoming a recurring issue that Tampa Bay will need to address if they want to continue on in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
If Lightning Continue Five-On-Five Play, More Wins Will Come
While you can’t count Boston out of a series until they are officially eliminated, the Lightning have put themselves in a position no one expected heading into Round 2. Being up 3-1 against their greatest regular season rival really shows just how good of a team the Bolts can be when they are able to play their brand of five-on-five hockey. If they can put that high-level of play together with a functioning penalty kill and productive power play all at the same time, this team could simply become unstoppable.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.