To a man, players and coaches from the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning said after the Lightning’s 7-1 rout of the Bruins that the timing of their arrival at the rink and the mass strike of professional athletes in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and MLS didn’t overlap enough for there to be a discussion about not playing Game 3 of the Eastern Conference second round Wednesday in the Toronto bubble.
Considering that timing, it was probably up to the NHL to decide if it wanted to do more than just hold a 30-something-second “moment of reflection” in response to the killing of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The NHL balked.
Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who posted a message of anti-racism back in June, said the fact that Boston played hadn’t changed his point of view on the matter – “We all need to find ways to be, like I said, part of the solution. My statement doesn’t change, my stance doesn’t change,” he said in his postgame video conference – and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara echoed those sentiments.
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“There are different ways to express that fight and obviously NBA players expressed their opinions by boycotting the games today. We support it,” Chara said after the Bruins fell behind in the best-of-seven series 2-1.
We’ll find out in the days ahead if the NHL or its teams will take any actions to back up their words, tweets and scoreboard messages about Black Lives Matter and social justice. We’ll also find out what the Bruins have left in the tank after looking old and getting swept in a back-to-back against the high-powered Lightning.
So many plays epitomized the Bruins’ horrendous night, but few did it as well as Chris Wagner slowing up on a breakaway thinking he had Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy 1-on-1 and then having his pocket picked by Zach Bogosian, no one’s idea of a speed demon.
The penalty kill let Nikita Kucherov distribute passes to teammates in high-danger areas with little resistance (Tampa’s man-advantage went 3-for-6) and the rare bouts of pushback crossed the discipline line, resulting in 10-minute misconducts in the third period for Charlie McAvoy (who jumped on Kucherov) and Torey Krug (who shot the puck at a linesman).
Sure the Bruins had their share of bad breaks – Nick Ritchie was called for slashing after his love tap on Pat Maroon’s shins, and a linesman set a pick on Jeremy Lauzon to set up a Tampa Bay goal – but these are supposed to be the grizzled Bruins who’ve seen it all and overcome every obstacle in their wake.
It was a discombobulated situation for the Bruins from the start, with coach Bruce Cassidy dressing seven defensemen and sitting out speedy wing Anders Bjork (Sean Kuraly also sat out but was classified as “unfit to play”). Maybe Cassidy liked how the Lightning looked with their seven defensemen dressed in their Game 3 win, but the Bruins on the second half of the back-to-back didn’t get nearly the same boost from the fresh legs of John Moore and Lauzon.
The last time the Bruins dressed seven defensemen in a playoff game, they lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final 2-1 to St. Louis last year in a game that wasn’t as close as the score. Perhaps Cassidy will learn his lesson and return to a conventional 12-6 lineup for Game 4 on Friday.
No matter how many forwards dress, though, Cassidy’s going to have to get more out of his second line of David Krejci centering Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase, if the coach doesn’t just break up that trio altogether. Once they were creating chances and coming close to scoring, but now they’ve taken a step back and have decided they’re allergic to getting to the net.
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The defense corps is also going to have to manage the puck better, and Jaroslav Halak is going to have to put the period and a half of rest he got after he was pulled in the second period to the right use and be sharper Friday.
The loss with seven defensemen in the lineup in the Cup final is a harsh memory, and the Bruins duplicated the losing effort against the Lightning. That final series with the Blues could serve a positive example for the Bruins as well because they must remember the 7-2 pasting they put on St. Louis in Game 3, only to go on to lose the series in seven games.
There were a lot of lessons to learn Wednesday. Whether the Bruins and the NHL did the right thing by playing will be determined by their future acts on the social justice front. And whether the Bruins can pull themselves together and at least make this a long series with Tampa Bay will be determined by better lineup decisions and, of course, better execution between the boards.
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