By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s this old saying in hockey, perhaps you’ve heard it once or 15 million times before: Sometimes your goalie has to steal you a game.
That’s all well and good as a general cliche, and if it applies to just one game where you’re outshot by a wide margin but still win? That’s great. But when a team’s actual play on the ice appears to be reflective of that attitude, it might be a little bit of an issue.
Such has been the case thus far in the Bruins’ second-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Through three games, the Lightning have outshot the Bruins 104-73. For the mathematically disinclined, that’s 31 more shots over the course of three games. Though the Bruins managed to attempt more shots in Game 3, Tampa entered that game having attempted 132 shots compared to the Bruins’ 75 attempts in two games in Tampa.
Overall, the Lightning have a 57.14 Corsi For percentage this series in 5-on-5 play. Even in the game that the Bruins won 6-2, Rask had to make 23 saves through the first 40 minutes in what was a 3-2 game. Rask stopped all 11 Tampa shots in the third to finish the game with 34 saves and allow the Bruins to win what looked on the scoreboard to be a laugher.
And all of that is without considering the quality of shots and scoring chances, an area where the Lightning have held a distinct edge.
The Bruins lost 4-1 in Game 3, but it could have easily been 7-2.
Already trailing 2-0, Zdeno Chara lost a puck battle with Nikita Kucherov along the end boards, and Kucherov chipped the puck in front of the net where J.T. Miller was left completely unaccounted for. Rask had to make a desperation stick save to prevent the Bruins from falling into a 3-0 hole just six minutes into the game.
Later in the first period, Rask had to pull a Houdini act to prevent Ondrej Palat from waltzing into the crease to tap in what would have been his third goal of the period:
Less than a minute later, Rask had to deny Brayden Point with a toe save on a shot from in close, and he later turned away a quality shot by Anton Stralman after Rick Nash had lost his stick. The Bruins were fortunate to only be trailing 2-1 heading into that intermission.
In the second period, the Bruins controlled the pace of the game for the first 10 minutes, but they really didn’t generate many quality scoring chances. Miller’s cross-ice pass to Kucherov was just barely broken up, before Miller sent a diagonal pass to Kucherov, who was breaking toward the net from the left dot for a redirect. Kucherov redirected the hard pass, but Rask read the pass through traffic and lunged to his right to make the save.
Late in the second, Rask again denied Kucherov, this time with a kick save off a power-play one-timer. And in the third period, Rask had to stop Kucherov on a breakaway to keep the Bruins’ hopes alive.
Obviously, the Bruins pay Rask a hefty salary to make these kinds of saves. But giving them up with such frequency is not at all a winning strategy, and it’s something the Bruins absolutely have to address if they hope to get back into this series.
“I think we didn’t defend well enough, personally,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Game 3. “We didn’t defend the front of our net. The [second and third] goals, we had people around the front of the net, and we turned away or didn’t tie up. So, I look at it, that was our major issue. … We need to defend better, and part of that is intensity. My estimation, urgency, pick your word. We didn’t have it. You’ve got to manage the puck first, and then once you don’t have it anymore, you’ve got to have a certain level of structure and urgency to get it back, and we didn’t.”
The goals the Lightning did score in Game 3 twice involved Rask getting hung out to dry, first on a gift of a 2-on-1 following Matt Grzelcyk losing the puck and spinning himself out of the play, then in a sequence where Kevan Miller allowed Anthony Cirelli to skate right to the crease and bang home his own rebound. The other goal involved Palat breaking to the front of the net between Miller and Torey Krug, and redirecting a Victor Hedman point shot. All three were high-quality scoring chances, on which the Lightning capitalized.
The Bruins also have been fortunate that Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have yet to make their mark on this series. Kucherov — who scored 39 goals this season, 40 goals last season, and had five goals and five assists in five games against New Jersey in the first round of the postseason — has yet to score on his eight shots on net. And he’s yet to record an assist this series. Stamkos scored the empty-netter in Game 3 but has otherwise been held without a point through three games.
Given the world-class talent of those two players, relying on them to stay off the scoresheet would be inadvisable. If either of those two get going, then all of the added scoring chances to the Palats and Tyler Johnsons and Yanni Gourdes and Brayden Points of the world become that much more impactful.
The Bruins do need to improve their offense, yes, and perhaps Ryan Donato can provide that jolt in Game 4. But any steps taken offensively will be rendered meaningless if the Bruins can’t maintain some structure and integrity in their own end of the ice. If Rask has a night where he’s even slightly off his best, the Bruins could be looking at a football-type deficit on the scoreboard in a hurry.