By Bryan Murphy | Follow me on Twitter @bryan_murphy10
The Bruins haven’t looked quite like themselves since arriving in the Toronto bubble as the NHL restarts with its 24-team playoff.
Boston looked sluggish and sloppy in its 4-1 exhibition loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last week. In its first game of the round robin, the Bruins played a back and forth game with the Philadelphia Flyers, an improvement from the poor showing against Columbus. However, the Bruins again fell 4-1 in a crucial game for seeding.
Now the Bruins are in a tough situation going into Wednesday’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning took a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in their first round robin game and now the Bruins are at the bottom of the seeding rankings with no points. With a loss to the Lightning, the Bruins will no longer have a chance at the No. 1 seed.
The Lightning looked very solid in their first meaningful game, outside of a span of four minutes at the end of the second period where the Capitals scored two goals to tie the game.
Here are some of the takeaways for the Bruins from the Lightning’s win.
More Sandpaper In The Bay
Tampa Bay GM Julien BriseBois had plenty of time to mull over what happened to the Lightning last season when they were swept in the opening round by the Blue Jackets. He realized the Lightning needed to add physicality to their game and they did just that.
BriseBois and the Lightning signed Pat Maroon this offseason and brought in Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman at the trade deadline, in addition to signing Zach Bogosian in late February. With guys like Cedric Paquette, Yanni Gourde, and a boatload of big defensemen already on the roster, this is a dangerous group that may have just figure out the final piece of the puzzle.
The physicality was on full display against the Capitals, with the Lightning racking up a whopping 45 hits to the Capitals 44. They didn’t cave and get away from their game plan trying to take runs like we’ve seen in the past. They now have enough sandpaper guys that their skilled players don’t have to worry as much about playing that style.
“I thought we were in their face,” said Maroon after the game. “That’s the kind of team we need to be, just kind of have that mentality to push back. … I thought we did a really good job of just staying in it, not getting frustrated when they were throwing big hits and responding at the right time.”
It’s part of why the Bruins have had success in the playoffs. They have the skills, but it’s the in-your-face mentality that ultimately separates the men from the boys. The Bruins have seen the scrappiness from the Lightning in the regular season and should expect to see that ramped up on Wednesday.
No Steven Stamkos
The Lightning were without their captain Steven Stamkos against the Capitals and appeared to not miss a beat.
Stamkos suffered a leg injury during voluntary workouts and while he’s expected to play at some point these playoffs, he isn’t quite ready yet. Brayden Point slid into the top line center position alongside Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
Mitchell Stephens was in the fourth line center role and looked very comfortable. The rookie put the Lightning ahead 2-0, getting in front of the net and deflecting a shot past Holtby. That started from a hard forecheck by Stephens that caused Capitals defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler to turn the puck over and Stephens outmuscled Siegenthaler again in front to get his stick on the puck and redirect it.
The Lightning went 3-3-1 in the regular season without Stamkos when he went down with his core muscle injury in February. Two of those games were against the Bruins, a 2-1 win for Boston and a 5-3 win for Tampa Bay.
So the Bruins know what to expect from the Lightning even without Stamkos. They looked very good without him against the Capitals and will have to do so again on Wednesday against the Bruins. But it’s a chance for Boston to exploit the absence of their top center who was averaging over a point per game this season.
Vasilevskiy Is Still Really, Really Good
SPOILER ALERT – Quarantine did not seem to affect Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The “big cat” of Tampa made 31 saves and two of three saves in the shootout on Monday. The two goals he gave up came off of some bad bounces that the Capitals were able to just sneak by.
Vasilevskiy made some big time saves, including stopping a Jakub Vrana breakaway attempt in the overtime period.
The rebound control is what stood out the most. Vasilevskiy was calm in the net and either was able to swallow up everything or kick it to the corners. The Caps two goals came off of getting bodies and pucks to the net and the Bruins will have to do just that to disrupt Vasilevskiy.
The Vezina candidate compiled three wins and a loss against the Bruins in the regular season, giving up no more than three goals in a game. And after a rough postseason in 2019, Vasilevskiy, like the rest of the Lightning squad, will be coming back with vengeance this postseason.
The Bruins and Lightning will kick off at 4 p.m. on Wednesday with a lot more on the line for the boys in black and gold. It’s put up or shut up time for the Bruins, as they truly need to find their game before it’s too late.