As the Bruins have built and shaped their team over the course of this season, there has been a central focus: what can we do to beat the Lightning?
A 3-2 loss in December that was much closer on paper than in reality made it clear that a very injured Boston had a ways to go. The teams squared off again at the end of February, when the Bruins dominated a tired Lightning team on the second night of a back-to-back. Even though Boston has five important pieces injured, the third game was the closest thing to a measuring stick game that these teams will have all season. Boston still doesn’t have an answer for Tampa’s aggressive forecheck.
Boston still has no answer for the Lightning fore check
It’s the reason the Bruins struggled so much to generate 5-on-5 offense in their series last April. The Lightning forecheck is unmatched in the NHL because they’re better than everybody else at two things: skating and layering. Top to bottom, this is the fastest team in the NHL and it’s not even close. This allows them to forecheck as aggressively as they do. The next skater up ice can take away time and space after a pass and know that whoever is down will be able to recover and cut off the return pass.
When the individual plays are made, the reward is usually a scoring chance like we see here. The problem is that the Lightning are too talented. You can’t expect to consistently beat them on individual outplay. The Bergeron line is capable of it but I wouldn’t give the edge to any other Bruins line over their Lightning counterpart. This fore check is something that needs to be broken down on tape and analyzed in order to be beaten. You can expect a better approach during a 7-game series, when the coaching staff has more time to break down one team.
Boston will never out skate Tampa Bay and will have to win by playing well without the puck
These are not the Corsi ratings of a 5-4 loss. If you just looked at this table you’d think the Bruins lost by two or three goals. Not only that, but the eye test backs these numbers up and then some. I was at the game live and honestly thought these numbers would be even worse, particularly during the first and third period.
It was clear early in the game that Boston was going to be out skated and would not be able to win this game on puck control, which is also how most of the playoff series last year went. The Lightning are very good at a lot of things, but their greatest strength is their speed. Once they get control of the puck, they do not give it up for a long time; they are exceptional at preventing turnovers.
To me, the best way to overcome this speed is by playing physically, which Boston did not do a great job of, getting outhit 22-33. This is to be expected at this point in the season. The Bruins are heavily injured and as a result have a lot of young guys playing. Everyone else is trying not to get injured to keep this team afloat. I understand why the physicality wasn’t there in this game, but in the playoffs this will be a major factor.
Defensive mistakes by Boston ultimately cost them the game
We could speculate the reason for these mistakes. I personally think it’s mostly fatigue at the end of a road trip since the team defense and layers weren’t bad at all (6/6 penalty kills bravo). Regardless, the team is going to have to cut these out if they want to beat Tampa in a seven game series.
Believe it or not, I’m no less optimistic about this matchup after this game
I’m not going to walk away from this game pessimistic because we lost a close game to the best team in the league by one goal on the road. Boston showed that it can hang with Tampa. The Bruins set themselves up as well as possible against a team like this and then played one of the worst third periods they’ve played all year, if not the worst. Also, the fact that they played so badly in the third period and still only lost by one is a comfort to me. The next time these teams play will be game number 82 which will most likely mean nothing to either team, so this is pretty much what we’re left with for a preview of this matchup. I’m not that concerned.
Also, let’s not get distracted from the fact that we have to get through Toronto first since our playoff format doesn’t make any sense at all.