The Boston Bruins had the New York Rangers right where they wanted them.
David Pastrnak gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead a mere 21 seconds into the final frame with career goal No. 200. At that point, they carried over their good habits in all three zones from the first 40 minutes of play.
But things quickly went haywire against a team with nothing to play for.
Amidst a tumultuous week, the Rangers made one good last impression to cap off their 2021 campaign. Tuukka Rask looked on in disbelief as Mika Zibenajad (twice), Alexis Lafreniere and Vitali Kravtsov sparked New York to a four-goal outburst in a 13:45 span.
The Bruins’ defensive structure in the opening 40 minutes of play didn’t carry over into the final 20. And Rask couldn’t fully bail them out after facing multiple quality scoring chances.
Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron cut the deficit to one with their tallies at 14:08 and 18:39 of the third, respectively. But the Rangers held on for a 5-4 win, hampering Boston’s chances at securing home ice for their first-round series against the Capitals or Penguins.
“Uncharacteristic for our team,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Here’s what we learned following Saturday’s third period collapse.
Shared responsibility split between Rask and D
You don’t hear from Rask’s detractors when he has a good game. But they sure don’t shy away from sharing their ‘hot takes’ on Boston’s all-time winningest hockey game whenever the Bruins lose a hockey game.
Surely, the Finn encountered a rough third period. Even with a pair of timely saves on Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers quickly found the back of the net rather quickly with secondary scoring chances.
The layers in front of Rask unraveled in the third after they overwhelmed New York’s attacking zone setup during the previous five periods of this two-game slate. From Mike Reilly finding himself in no man’s land, allowing Lafrienerre to walk in scot-free in the slot and a crazy high-glass bounce off a clear attempt leading to Zibenajad’s 200th career tally, Boston’s support system in front of their netminder quickly eroded.
Rask didn’t help himself either. Earlier in the afternoon, he failed to track K’Andre Miller’s shot from the point as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the middle stanza. The Finn also whiffed on Zibenajad’s back-breaking tally shortly after Marchand cut the Rangers lead to 4-3 with his power-play marker.
All this prompted Cassidy to equally distribute the responsibilities to Rask and his defense following Boston’s third-period meltdown.
“It was both. We were excellent in front of [Rask] for two periods, gave up one slot chance right after they scored,” Cassidy said. “So obviously we didn’t do a good enough job in front of him in the third. We were extremely loose against a good team who can make plays, and obviously [Rask] didn’t bail us out in any of those situations either.”
The head-scratching third period in the defending end put a dent into their rhythm heading toward the postseason. Yet, for every blip, they’ve shown the capability to bounce back rather quickly.
More than anything, the Bruins want to establish — or in this case re-establish — their good habits in all three zones during the final two games, beginning with Monday’s tilt against the Islanders.
“They definitely came out hard and it seemed like we weren’t ready,” Pastrnak said. “Obviously, it’s unacceptable. We played a great 40 minutes. It’s a tough lesson, but we have to learn and move on and we have to be 100 percent ready for the next week.”
Cassidy will provide vets a chance to right the wrongs
With two games left and home ice seemingly slipping away, the conventional wisdom suggests the Bruins would rest some of their vets in their final set of back-to-backs.
But Cassidy won’t likely deviate from his lineup for Monday’s tilt with the Islanders.
Some of the battle-tested vets like Bergeron, Marchand, Rask and David Krejci deserve a breather at the end of a unique 2021 campaign. The taxi-squad luxury will come into play depending on how things play out over the final hours of the regular season.
Yet, the coaching staff could use one more extended look with their likely playoff roster. With that, Rask and company will have a chance to correct their errors from Saturday’s loss, this time in front of a larger group of spectators.
“We were planning on playing our team for the most part. Maybe we’ll side a guy in that we wanted to get a look at,” Cassidy said. “There might have been a few changes, but we were going to play our group anyway no matter what.”
One potential change could see Ondrej Kase re-entering the lineup after sustaining a concussion against the Devils on opening weekend. The Bruins rarely had a glimpse of the former Anaheim winger since Don Sweeney acquired his services at last year’s trade deadline. Regardless, Cassidy will likely insert Kase into the lineup for at least one of the final two games.
Nick Ritchie earns 7th Player Award honors
Ideally, any player would have a further appreciation of an individual accomplishment following a victory. Ritchie instead had to settle for a bittersweet perspective after Bruins fans voted the power forward as this year’s NESN’s ‘7th Player Award’ winner.
Anaheim’s 2014 first-round selection — taken 15 picks ahead of Pastrnak — didn’t leave a good first impression following his arrival at last year’s trade deadline. His spot on this year’s roster was hardly guaranteed after disappointing results inside the Toronto playoff bubble.
Ritchie worked hard to earn his spot on Boston’s opening night roster. With a career-high 15 goals under his belt, Ritchie significantly surpassed everyone’s expectations around The Hub.
“It’s nice. Being acknowledged by the fans and being the fans award, it feels good that the fans voted for you and it’s a boost of confidence,” Ritchie said of the loyal Bruins supporters and the 7th Player Award. “There have been some good players who have won that award, and I’m happy to join that list, I guess.”
Ritchie saw time on the second line before Taylor Hall’s arrival. He encountered a dip in production as the Bruins sorted out their bottom-six makeup with Curtis Lazar also coming over from Buffalo.
With several games under his belt, mainly in a third-line role, the Bruins received timely secondary scoring from Ritchie over the last week. The extra motivation from last year’s disappointing playoff run only gives Ritchie more fuel to help his squad in their quest to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in 10 years.
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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