The Bruins could’ve had home ice wrapped up for the first round this weekend. All they needed was to take care of business against a pair of teams out of the playoff picture in the Panthers and Red Wings.
They even got some help from an unlikely source when the Senators downed the Maple Leafs on Saturday. But Bruce Cassidy’s squad couldn’t help their own cause. Instead, they’ll be going back to the drawing board after their rough weekend against two squads in the bottom half of the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins gave up the first two goals for the second straight game. Unlike their 4-1 loss to the Panthers on Saturday, the Bruins overcame the deficit with a furious second period en route to taking a 3-2 lead on tallies from Jake DeBrusk, Brad Marchand and David Backes.
Yet, they couldn’t finish the job. Boston’s lax defensive coverage reared its ugly head when Anthony Manta completed his first career hat trick and Taro Hirose notched his first career goal in an 8-second span to put the Bruins behind the proverbial 8-ball.
Taro Hirose scored his first NHL goal for the Red Wings.
Filip Hronek’s one-timer and Dylan Larkin’s empty netter sealed the Bruins’ fate. Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 6-3 loss on Sunday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Defensive issues piling up at the worst time
The Bruins couldn’t close the deal against Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the high-octane Lightning to start the week after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period. The Bolts found a formula to break Boston’s layers on the back end that led to odd-man rushes and several quality scoring chances en route to their three-goal third.
David Pastrnak’s five-point night against the Rangers stopped the bleeding from the Lightning game two nights later. But Boston’s defensive issues carried over a bit into their tilt with a rebuilding Blueshirts squad.
Those two games paled in comparison to the nine goals they allowed this weekend. Even a returning Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller — both missing time with an upper-body injury — didn’t help.
The Bruins had no answers countering the Red Wings’ speed and energy from the likes of Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou on Sunday. The trio got behind Boston’s defense often to set up quality scoring chances for themselves and their teammates.
Cassidy had his ideal blue-line core with Grzelcyk, Miller, Brandon Carlo, Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy for the first time in recent memory. They didn’t get the job done. But the third-year Bruins coach also needed a save or two from Jaroslav Halak.
This leads us to our next point.
Goaltending not helping things either
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Halak came into Sunday stringing together quality performances en route to a 7-1 mark in his last eight starts. He was far from sharp going up against former UMaine goaltender Jimmy Howard.
The journeyman netminder had one of his worst outing’s of the season allowing five goals on 22 shots for a .815 save percentage. It wasn’t so much positioning or juicy rebounds that let him down, but rather a glove malfunction. The Red Wings beat Halak on the glove side for four of their tallies.
Tuukka Rask had his own issues the day before after allowing a juicy rebound on Evgenii Dadonov’s first period tally and Troy Brouwer’s 20-foot shorthanded lamplighter in the second. The Finn has allowed five goals on 31 shots — a .801 save percentage — dating back to the third-period collapse in Tampa.
A goaltender is only as good as the defense in front of him. The Bruins’ blue-liners didn’t help either goaltender this weekend, but both Rask and Halak could’ve helped them out with another timely save.
How can the Bruins fix this?
It sounds simple, right? Staying structured defensively and give Halak and Rask the time and space to make the saves when needed. That should get the job done when the Bruins enter the final week of the regular season, right?
Well, there’s some other logistics that need to be addressed. For one, they need to get off to a better start. The Bruins had to play catchup hockey early after the Lightning, Panthers and Red Wings all scored first.
Yes, Cassidy’s squad overcame deficits before. No matter the deficit, the Bruins displayed a never say die attitude during their 19-game point streak. Those things pile up eventually, though, and it just so happened that the Bruins encountered that over the past week.
The Bruins netted 14 goals in their last four games. Things could’ve been a tad different had they converted on a 5-on-3 late in the first period against the Lightning and had David Pastrnak converted in the third period on Sunday to put the Bruins within a goal. But goal scoring didn’t let them down aside from their sleepwalking performance against the Panthers on Saturday.
Every team still has something to play for entering the last week of the season. Some, like the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Canadiens, are fighting for playoff spots. Others, like the Panthers, Rangers and Red Wings (to name a few) have players and coaches fighting for jobs for next season.
The Bruins are fighting for home ice. They hope to inch closer to that in Columbus against a desperate Blue Jackets squad on Tuesday. They could also use some help from the Islanders — who host the Maple Leafs on Monday — looking to stay alive for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
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