The Boston Bruins had an extra day to get the bitter taste out of their mouths following their poor effort in Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now they have to face a new reality.
The Bruins will have no margin for error after dropping their third straight game to the Lightning in Game 4. That’s a tall ask in and of itself, but coming back from a 3-1 series deficit against an upper-echelon team like the Lightning will provide a mountain of a challenge for Bruce Cassidy’s squad.
“We were just off net with too many good chances today,” Cassidy said following the 3-1 loss Saturday. “And like I said they got another opportunity to build on their lead with what we feel is a questionable call, they did it. they took advantage of it and that’s what good teams do. So it put us in a bigger hole and we started working our way out of it, but if you’re going to put yourself in a hole you got to score goals to win games and we weren’t able to do that.”
More on those questionable moments later. But, for whatever reason, the Bruins looked out of sync all afternoon with their defensive communication breakdowns and missed shot attempts.
They also found themselves flat-footed more often than not. Case in point came early in the first where four Bruins in front of Jaroslav Halak allowed Ondrej Palat to walk in seamlessly near the crease and fire his first of two tallies on the afternoon.
Halak, while being hung out to dry for the most part, did all he could to keep the Bruins within striking distance. But even he couldn’t escape a lapse in judgment, whiffing on Palat’s second of the night on a glove-side one-timer during the middle stanza.
Nick Ritchie put the Bruins in a tough spot after his reckless hit on Yanni Gourde. The Bruins nearly killed off the five-minute major, but fell victim to a 3-0 deficit after Victor Hedman found the back of the net with a fortunate bounce off a Boston defender with 1:56 left in the second.
Jake DeBrusk cut the Lightning lead to 3-1 at 7:04 of the third. The Bruins, however, hardly showcased any urgency in the final moments and enter another must-win scenario Monday night.
Here’s what we learned from the Game 4 setback.
The Ritchie experiment needs to end
Ritchie sat for most of the Bruins’ first-round series against the Hurricanes. But against a physical Tampa squad, Cassidy opted to insert Ritchie back on third-line duty to give the Bruins some added muscle in the bottom-six.
Ritchie wasn’t all that bad through the first few games. But the experiment needs to come to an end following his forgettable afternoon.
Yes, he came to the aid of Karson Kuhlman following a late and dangerous hit by Cedric Paquette. The Lightning forward escaped discipline from the officials on what should’ve been a clear boarding call. Ritchie, however, didn’t go unscathed as the refs sent him to the box for roughing.
The problem with Ritchie, however, came on his eerily similar late and unnecessary collision with Gourde during the second period, putting the Bruins back on a five-minute penalty kill. Yes, there wasn’t any intent — and the officials originally didn’t call anything prior to stoppage of play — but the reckless hit put Ritchie and the Bruins in another tough predicament.
“I had no intent to put a guy on the ice and inure anybody. I was just finishing my hit, thought I did a good job keeping my arms down and it was shoulder to shoulder,” Ritchie said. “Maybe he wasn’t expecting it and he just got rid of the puck. I’m just playing my game and that’s part of it, sometimes stuff like that happens.”
Ritchie wasn’t ejected, but in no way should he have returned after his hit on Gourde. Barclay Goodrow made sure Ritchie had to answer for his hit on Gourde — who returned to the ice for the third period — during their third-period bout.
Yet Cassidy defended Ritchie during his postgame press conference. All while taking a little shot at Gourde too.
“The discipline was nothing originally, there was no call, and then it turned into a five-minute major. I’m not sure, I guess we’ll get an explanation or we won’t, I don’t know, I didn’t get one of why that changed,” Cassidy said.
“Clearly Gourde was down on the play, he’s a good player, a real good player for them, clever obviously, got them on the power play for five minutes, he finished the game, had no problems in the third period. I didn’t agree with the call. As I said, Kuhlman got hit by Paquette late in the first period, like I said, a very, very, very, very, very similar hit, no call. But I guess we’ll ask that question, find out what the thinking was.”
Don’t expect Cassidy to drop Ritchie out of the lineup. So it will be up to the NHL’s Player Safety Department to determine Ritchie’s fate with Boston’s season on the line Monday night.
“I thought he did a good job,” Cassidy added of Ritchie. “That’s what he’s asked to do” be hard on people, stick up for your teammates, go to the net, score dirty goals, make plays off the wall, all those things. So that hit was part of the job description and he did it.”
A lack of urgency in the final moments
They looked a tad off throughout Saturday’s tilt, but Halak’s gaffe on Palat’s second goal and Ritchie’s unnecessary penalty took the wind out of Boston’s sails proverbially speaking.
The Bruins still could’ve made things interesting in the final 12:56 following DeBrusk’s fourth goal of the playoffs. They hardly built any momentum from that, if at all.
The usually potent Boston power play was anything but, going 0-for-5 in Game 5 including an 0-for-3 showing in the final 20. They generated a solid amount of possession time and shot attempts, but only nine pucks found its way to Andrei Vasilevisky.
The Bruins somehow outshot the Lightning 30-26, including a 11-6 margin in the final 20. But they passed up on some golden opportunities as well.
Krejci and company need more urgency in Game 5. Yet, they can’t afford any sloppiness like Game 4. They need to be both urgent and crisp against a talented Lightning squad. Otherwise, they’ll leave the bubble empty-handed.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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