Sunday, 6 May 2018

Hibernation Season Begins

Some will say that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins were fairly even teams, and I would agree for the most part when just talking about the rosters on paper. The problem is that these series aren't played on paper, so making these comparisons are often futile when one brings in actual factors. I heard some suggest that this series was lost when Brad Marchand licked Ryan Callahan in Game Four. Others pointed to Game Two when the Lightning really established their physical game and forecheck. For me, there was one factor that made the Lightning on overwhelming favorite long before this series even started.

I have been doing some radio work for CBC as stations across Canada have been asking for my input on the Jets and Predators, but they also ask about the other series that are happening. When it came to the Lightning and Bruins, I repeated the same lines to every single station that asked. I was concerned about how the Bruins would respond to the depth and speed of the Lightning after the Lightning played just five games against the Devils while the Bruins needed the full seven games to eliminate the Maple Leafs.

In short, I thought the Bruins looked exhausted in the four-straight losses they suffered after winning Game One. In fact, I thought the Lightning not only established their game early in Game Two, but never really let Boston dictate the pace or tempo from that point onward in this series.

Let's not discredit the Lightning for what they did in this series. Brayden Point outplayed the majority of the Bruins at 22 years-old, and he was a factor in each of the games. Players like Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos outplayed David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Rick Nash, Jake DeBrusk, and David Krejci for the majority of series, and the end result was a 4-1 series win for the Lightning for the second series in row.

One of the keys in the series was five-on-five play. The Bruins went the final 187:20 of the series without an even-strength goal after Charlie McAvoy had scored with 4:02 remaining in the third period of Game Two. The Bruins forwards mentioned above didn't score an even-strength goal after Game One, and the remaining forwards didn't get one either. In fact, the bottom two lines for the Bruins didn't record a point in the series. That's rather incredible when you consider the how important those players were in their victories against the Leafs.

If you can't score on five-on-five, you better draw penalties and score often on the power-play. The Bruins didn't do that, either. In fact, the Bruins were shorthanded 19 times in the series and surrendered five power-play goals - a 74% penalty kill efficiency which was down nearly 10% from their third-overall penalty kill ranking in the regular season. They simply couldn't stop the Lightning when they needed to, and that contributed to their demise today.

If there's anything that the Bruins can salvage from this loss is that they were one shot from winning Game Four which would have made this a 2-2 series. Losing in overtime never feels good, but that was an opportunity that slipped away, giving the Lightning the 3-1 series lead and they smelled blood in the water as they came home and dominated in a 3-1 victory today to end Boston's postseason.

The Bruins will hibernate for the next few months before heading back to the rink to start a new season. The fourth-overall team in the NHL has been dismissed by the third-overall team in the NHL. Sometimes, the better team wins, but the Lightning's week of rest certainly was a major difference in this series.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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