TAMPA — Even against a well-rested Tampa Bay Lightning squad, the Boston Bruins picked up right where they left off following their third period in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs Wednesday night.
From Rick Nash and Tuukka Rask setting the tone to another stellar outing from the first line, the Black and Gold established one of their better 60-minute efforts of the postseason with a 6-2 win over the Lightning at Amalie Arena Saturday afternoon.
Here is what we learned as the Bruins accomplished a big task; winning their first of two on the road to start the series.
Rick Nash shows why the Bruins added him at the Deadline
GM Don Sweeney acquired Nash to provide secondary scoring on the top-six, key power play minutes and a big body on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins GM also knew about his tough playoff track record with the Rangers but took the risk anyway hoping Nash would fill the missing piece to the Cup puzzle.
Nash’s playoff track record carried over into the first round matchup with the Maple Leafs, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The veteran fired 24 shots on goal but only one went in — during Game 2 of the B’s 7-3 win. He made up for the lack of statistical success by drawing penalties and staying active in all three zones.
That effort carried over into Game 1 as Nash set the tone beginning with his power play tip past 2018 Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevisky on a David Pastrnak point shot en-route to a two-goal afternoon.
“Through my career, it seems like my goals have always come in bunches,” Nash said postgame. “The chances were there, which is good…and I finally got rewarded tonight.”
That’s a quote saved for any streaky scorer, including Nash. The Bruins are indeed hoping that Nash lights the lamp a little more often in Round 2 as he faces some of his former Ranger teammates, including Bolts defenseman Ryan McDonagh; the other marquee name during the trade deadline.
He had some tough breaks on both goals he allowed, so chalk this one up as a rough night for Tuukka Rask, right? Well, even his detractors might give Rask a deserved break here, and not just for Matt Grzelcyk and Adam McQuaid screening him on Dan Girardi’s first playoff goal in four years, or for losing a skate blade leading up to Mikhail Sergachev’s second of the postseason.
Even though the rule states that play must go on in the event of an equipment issue, the animated Rask was visibly upset as he tried to draw attention toward the officials and linesmen to blow things dead. After throwing his skate blade in disgust, Rask got his blade repaired by the equipment manager, remained calm and was still dialed in.
“It was fun to watch I guess. I wasn’t sure if he should have thrown that skate blade, and I was like ‘no don’t do it.'” Patrice Bergeron chuckled about the bizarre events. “But it’s nice to see that emotion out of him, especially the way that he stepped up in that game and it definitely gives us a lot of confidence.
It was also fun for Bergeron and company to see Rask bounce back from those tough goals to deliver a stellar outing. From his strong rebound control to his solid post-to-post movement, the 2014 Vezina winner outdueled Vasilevskiy en route to a 34-save outing in one of his better performances through his first eight postseason games.
More importantly, it put Rask’s shaky performances against the Maple Leafs, including his Game 5 and 7 outings, to rest.
“It’s a new series,” said Rask, who debuted a new glove and set of goalie pads in Game 1. “You try to come out on top in the first game and try to take the lead, and that’s where my focus was…trying to give my team a chance to win. And we knew they were going to come out hard in the first period and we were going to try to weather the storm and gain the lead and that’s what we did.”
The Lightning’s top-line of J.T. Miller, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are as good as they come in the NHL. But if there’s one line that can expose the Lightning trio, it’s Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
If one game is any indication, the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio is going to be hard to beat, again. The trio combined for 11 points highlighted by four-point nights by Pastrnak (four assists) and Marchand (one goal, three assists), and a three-point outing from Bergeron (two goals, one assist). Their puck pursuit in all three zones and ability to find time and space in the attacking end proved too much for Miller, Stamkos and Kucherov, who were a combined minus-four with seven shots on goal.
“We’re having fun,” Pastrnak said about playing with his fellow linemates. “We need to keep [things] a little bit simple at the beginning, you know, putting pucks deep. We’re good when we’re fast on the forecheck and getting pucks back, so, you know, we just have to keep playing like that.”
Keeping things simple doesn’t mean that the trio can’t show creativity. Whether it was Pastrnak’s brilliant pass to Bergeron in the second or Marchand’s feed to the four-time Selke Winner in the third, the trio got into a groove against another high-calber top trio in Miller, Stamkos and Kucherov.
Jake DeBrusk’s grit and empty-netter caps things off
He was one of the better performers in their first-round series against the Maple Leafs, and head coach Bruce Cassidy called Game 7 his coming out party. So, what would DeBrusk have for an encore?
Well, that encore nearly ended when DeBrusk took a high hit from Alex Killorn in the third period in the defensive end. Despite the pain, DeBrusk’s grit and determination to stay with the play, block a shot and clear the puck out of the zone after three attempts resonated throughout The Hub.
“That’s just playoff hockey,” DeBrusk said about his tough third-period shift. “As for the hit, I didn’t see it at all; I didn’t know it was coming. So I was just trying to regain my composure and get my stick, and I saw I think it was [Yanni] Gourde that was going to take a shot, so I needed to get in the lane and I was lucky enough to get a piece of it and it was just a puck race…”
It’s interesting how things play out sometimes as DeBrusk iced the game for good with his empty-netter — following his second penalty of the game — and sixth of the postseason at 13:41 of the third period. That was an example of the hockey gods being good to DeBrusk following his gritty effort.
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