By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Perhaps like no other sport, the element of luck is a major driver of wins and losses in hockey. You’ve got a rubber puck, you’ve got a sheet of ice, surrounded by boards and glass, with 12 sticks, some goalie pads and 24 skates (plus eight more skates strapped to officials) all occupying space while the fastest game on earth takes place in a chaotic whirl for 60 minutes. Luck plays a major factor in the sport of hockey.
Yet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams tend to create their own luck. And that works both positively and negatively.
The Bruins certainly did themselves no favors in Wednesday night’s Game 3. Already facing uphill odds as the older team on the second leg of a playoff back-to-back, the Bruins were shorthanded just 37 seconds into the game, with Brandon Carlo tripping Alex Killorn in front of the net. No matter what head coach Bruce Cassidy thinks about that call or the slashing penalty on Nick Ritchie later in the period, they were nevertheless penalties committed by a team that desperately needed to keep the Lightning power play off the ice.
From there, it might have been bad luck that Ondrej Palat’s shot deflected off a shot-blocking Zdeno Chara’s stick and past Jaroslav Halak to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead 12:46 into the first period. But the Lightning were only in position to capitalize on a fortunate break because the Bruins gave it to them.
It was a deficit that never needed to exist for Boston, and it was one that was made doubly worse just seconds later thanks in large part to some good old-fashioned bad luck. This time it came in the form of linesman Devin Berg standing directly in the path of Jeremy Lauzon, who was in pursuit of puck carrier Yanni Gourde while streaking into the Boston end. Lauzon collided with the official, thus laying out a red carpet for Gourde to walk in on Halak and do whatever he wanted to do.
While Halak could have handled the end of that rush a bit better, the netminder was not set up for a fair fight. The Bruins went down 2-0. They never recovered.
“Clearly after that, we lost our composure at times and didn’t do enough to get back in the game,” Cassidy said.
It was an ugly, sloppy start, no doubt. But there was plenty of time to chip away at the lead and start making strides toward at least making this a competitive evening. Instead, Patrice Bergeron let his stick ride high on Palat just 78 seconds into the second period. The suddenly reinvigorated Lightning power play — which had been ice cold all postseason — scored less than a minute later.
At 3-0, the game was all but over. Cassidy admitted as much.
“You kind of got to bear down at the start of the second period, first 10 minutes, and we weren’t able to do that, sort of tilt the ice back in our favor, and they took full advantage of the opportunities given to them in the first period and after for that matter,” Cassidy said. “So, then it gets away from you and I think you’re just starting to build your game for Game 4 more than anything.”
Just 22 minutes into the game, the head coach was already thinking about getting his team ready for the next game. There’s perhaps no greater indictment on the Bruins’ performance and execution than that.
Yet the Bruins being the Bruins, they couldn’t help but fight back a little bit. Torey Krug hit Brad Marchand for a goal to get the Bruins on the board minutes later, but then the Lightning scored again. And again. And again.
At 4-1, Cassidy had to pull the plug on Halak, giving the 35-year-old some rest to prepare for Friday night’s Game 4. That move brought rookie Dan Vladar into the game to make his NHL debut. He was given an unfriendly welcome in the form of a Brayden Point breakway; the talented goal scorer of course finished the job to make it a 5-1 game.
Every Bruin on the ice then hung Vladar out to dry, and the Lightning unsurprisingly capitalized to make it 6-1 before the end of the second period.
Rewatching some of this. Can't tell if these are problems that will carry over, or if the Bruins just checked out of this particular ice hockey contest. Either way, ugly scene. pic.twitter.com/mVmPWCcgTm
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) August 27, 2020
Cassidy explained why he went with the young and inexperienced netminder in this spot, and his answer was right in line with his earlier statement about not believing his team was capable of coming back.
“I just had a gut feeling our guys were going to have a tough time pushing back from three goals down,” Cassidy said. “So let’s look at Vladdy.”
The Bruins’ ability to get just 24 shots on net over the course of 60 minutes proved Cassidy correct.
With that, the Bruins secured themselves an utterly embarrassing night. They also guaranteed themselves a whole lot of trouble.
Winners of Game 3 in best-of-seven series that are tied 1-1 have gone on to win more than 67 percent of the time. That’s historically speaking. Presently speaking, the Lightning have absolutely found their rhythm, they’ve tapped into their power play potential, they’ve won six of their last eight games overall and six of their eight games against Boston this season.
For the Bruins, playing their best game would still make beating the Lightning a tall task. Playing less than stellar in Game 2 before falling completely flat in Game 3 has them set up for a whole lot of trouble.
Come Friday night, the Bruins will have to play with poise despite their season riding on the results. A comeback from a 3-1 series deficit may not normally be an impossible journey, but against this imposing Lightning team, it looks like it would likely lay the path for a ticket out of the bubble and a far-too-early end to a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season.
A win, on the other hand, would even the series and breathe some life into a team that showed none of it on Wednesday. If the Bruins want that to happen, they’ll need to worry less about the Lightning and more about themselves. If any of Game 3’s careless mistakes show up again in Game 4, there’s not enough good luck left in that bubble to save the Boston Bruins.