By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – Bruins forward Riley Nash was beating himself up Monday for the overtime roughing penalty he took in retaliation against Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan at TD Garden in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first round series.
“I think it’s pretty selfish. You can’t make that play, you can’t put the refs in that position. Regardless of what happened before it, you can’t do it,” Nash said. “And it’s pretty tough for the boys.”
It took the Senators 65 seconds for Ryan to score the winning goal on a give-and-go with Kyle Turris. And after their second straight 4-3 overtime win the Senators took a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 on Wednesday back here.
No one would expect Nash, a bottom-six grinder who prides himself on doing the little things, to react any different. But he can’t take even a majority of the blame for how things unfolded Monday. We can start with the fact that the Bruins wouldn’t be in the playoffs were it not for the late-season production they got from Nash. And the Bruins’ rally from 3-0 down to tie the score would not have started without Nash’s heavy forecheck on Erik Karlsson and pass back to John-Michael Liles at the left point just before Noel Acciari scored on a tip at 6:05 of the second period.
In fact the Bruins’ Game 3 performance was filled with contributions from their supporting cast in addition to Nash, Liles (two assists) and Acciari.
Defenseman Tommy Cross, making his NHL season debut, had an assist after winning a defensive-zone battle, and Joe Morrow followed up his first game in three months with another solid performance under the circumstances. Kevan Miller continued to elevate his game by becoming a threat with the puck while not losing any of his vintage physicality.
It was the Bruins’ leading actors that put Boston in its 3-0 hole and that’s inexcusable for a team playing its first home playoff game since May 14, 2014.
Instead of putting on a show, they hit the snooze button.
Brad Marchand made a soft play behind the Ottawa net leading up to Mike Hoffman’s breakaway goal 7:15 into the first. David Backes gambled that he could strip Karlsson at the Boston blue line and instead the Senators had a 3-on-2 down low before Derick Brassard made it 2-0 at 7:40.
Marchand took a frustration penalty late in the second period and had one shot on goal. He was held without a point for the second straight game. Fair or not, Marchand as the Bruins’ leading scorer is going to have to take a lot of the heat for the Bruins’ slow start and their deficit in the series.
“I would say I have to better. I haven’t been at my best so far, but guys have done a really good job of stepping up,” Marchand said. “Every night we have four lines going and that’s what we need.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy was wise enough to juggle all four of his lines to create some balance and it helped spark the comeback. Backes scored the Bruins’ second goal and David Pastrnak buried a shot on a power play to make it 3-3 with 6:09 left in the second period.
But in addition to Marchand, Patrice Bergeron was quiet and had an uncharacteristic off night in faceoffs (13-for-29). David Krejci had the first-game-back blues and landed one shot (albeit a dangerous one Craig Anderson had to be quick to stop) in 14:38 of ice time.
Tuukka Rask really had no chance on any of the four goals, but one would hope at some point in this series, especially with the defense banged up, he can find some more of those mind-bending saves he made in Game 1.
And then there’s Ryan Spooner, who falls somewhere between the lead actors and the supporters. Skill-wise he should be someone Boston counts on for production but aside from a secondary assist on Pastrnak’s power play goal, the only role the center is playing is phantom of the hockey rink.
Few of the Bruins’ bit players should hang their heads.
Nash can also take solace in the questionable nature of the call considering what players were getting away with most of the game in terms of smacks to the face, and the headshot Ryan landed on Nash just before the right jab landed Nash in the box. Even NBC’s Pierre McGuire thought there should’ve been matching minors.
The best way to make sure a referee’s call doesn’t determine a game is to not give the officials a chance to make the difference.
The Bruins have to come out of the gates playing at a high level and their best players have to lead the way.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.