Even after their Game 2 loss to the Lightning, the Bruins were still among the favorites by the oddsmakers to win the Stanley Cup. After the Game 3 setback, those odds plummeted to the bottom of the remaining eight teams, putting Friday’s Game 4 in the proverbial must-win category.
To get by Game 4 with a W, the Bruins were once again in juggling mode with their lineup — and Bruce Cassidy made no bones about what was needed when he announced pregame that Ryan Donato would replace Danton Heinen.
“I hope he goes out there and has a stellar game and we’re all writing about it tomorrow,” Cassidy said about Donato in that announcement, “but he’s one of 12 forwards, and all 12 forwards need to be better; all six D need to be better.”
Cassidy also inserted Brian Gionta, with the final third line reading Donato, Gionta, and Sean Kuraly. That setup prompted a reconstruction of the fourth line to Tim Schaller, Noel Acciari, and David Backes (bumped down from third).
Here’s what we learned as special teams kept the Black and Gold in the game, but Boston wasn’t that much better overall as the Lightning took care of business to put the Bruins’ chances for a Lord Stanley parade one beat from flat line.
Tampa didn’t take long to put the dagger into Game 4, with former Harvard standout Alex Killorn swooping down the right dasher, pinching low, and feeding a cross-crease pass onto a one-handed tip by Dan Girardi at 3:18. Gionta and Donato were both on the ice for the game-winner.
“Well, we lost, so the easy answer is no,” Cassidy responded when asked if he felt he had gotten production from his revamped third and fourth lines. “A couple of them were on the ice for the goal against at the end, so that never looks good.”
“[It was] probably our best game,” Tuukka Rask said after, “and it didn’t go our way.”
“It’s battle-wins,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said about his team’s decisive fourth goal, “they [the Bruins] won that battle on the wall, but that is an unbelievably poised play.”
Cassidy’s 5-on-5 offense was nowhere to be found in Game 4.
“At the end of the day, [there were] guys that’ve scored all year five-on-five that didn’t. Obviously, they’re going to have to get inside a little more,” Cassidy said about the 5-on-5 scoring drought. “[It] usually starts there when it’s not going in. You’ve got to get to the net, you’ve got to get second chances, you’ve got to defend the right way so you’re in good defensive posture to get pucks. You can’t cheat because you haven’t scored.”
All three Boston goals came from special teams: two power-play goals to pull the B’s even at 2-2 and a shorthanded goal to give them the lead before Steven Stamkos fired a 20-footer home with seven minutes left to send the game to overtime.
The Bruins’ first power play went for naught at 11:21. However, their second attempt featured a Torey Krug blast that rebounded in pop-up style to David Pastrnak, who patiently waited for the puck to find ice before swiping it home at 15:28; Brad Marchand also assisting.
On their third power play just 43 ticks into the second frame, Krug threaded a pass to Patrice Bergeron for the tying goal at 2:04. Seconds later, Rask stoned Stamkos’ breakaway attempt.
With Noel Acciari on the penalty pine, the Bruins took their first lead of the game at 6:36 of the third period when Bergeron tipped a Marchand short-handed feed past Vasilevskiy.
“We know which guys have scored for us in this series, and we need a little bit more…from the rest of the group,” Cassidy said — without specifically referencing Rick Nash, David Krejci, or David Backes as no-shows on offense.
Bruins survive early implosion in déjà-vu start
They picked up Friday where they left off Wednesday. Tampa’s second line of Onrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Tyler Johnson sent two to twine in that 4-1 Game 3; in Game 4, it was Point who once again picked the Bruins apart on a busted D-zone breakout and turned a Gumby-style move on Rask into an unassisted score at 4:36.
Two penalties — first on Nash, then on Zdeno Chara for delay of game — gave the Lightning a de facto, four-minute man-advantage, which ended with Nikita Kucherov firing a right-dot rocket home at 9:53.
“[We] put ourselves in a hole early.” Cassidy said. “We dug ourselves out of it.”
Torey Krug’s assists put him at 11 points in the playoffs — an NHL best for defensemen. He left the game, however, with eight minutes left in regulation after taking a hard check from Killorn. The injury looked ankle-related — and serious.
“He went into the boards,” Cassidy offered. “Killorn kind of had his stick wrapped around him, so I don’t think there was anywhere he could go. [He went] right into the boards, and obviously lost his footing from there. Lower body injury; he will be evaluated further. Obviously didn’t finish the game, so that’s never great, but we’ll see how he is in the morning.”
As well as the rest of the team.
Now well and truly in the hole, the Black and Gold will have an all-or-nothing mentality heading into Game 5 in Tampa Sunday afternoon.
“Our backs are against the wall so we just got to go play,” Charlie McAvoy said. “We can’t think about anything else at this point. So we’ll go into Tampa with the expectation to win a hockey game.”
The Bruins are 0-22 in playoff series in which they trail three games to one.
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