Granted, the Lightning didn’t have former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov. Nor did they have the uber-skilled Brayden Point.
The Bruins, however, had a laundry list of players out, including their top left-winger in Brad Marchand (suspension) and their best defenseman in Charlie McAvoy (non-COVID-19 illness). Another emerging defenseman in Jakub Zboril also found his way on the injured list after sustaining a lower-body ailment during Thursday’s 2-0 win in Nashville.
The Bruins also didn’t have Bruce Cassidy (COVID protocol) behind their bench and Anton Blidh (upper-body) on their fourth line.
All this and the fallout of Jake DeBrusk’s public trade request steepened Boston’s odds against the high-octane Lightning. And they faced a 2-0 deficit on top of that off a first-period shorthanded breakaway goal by Taylor Raddysh and an Ondrej Palat second-period marker off of Bruins forward Tomas Nosek.
Amid several unfortunate bounces, the Bruins put forth a stellar effort. They outshot the Bolts, 39-25 and finally earned their breaks with Charlie Coyle’s second-period marker — off a stellar no-look feed by Erik Haula — and Curtis Lazar’s third-period equalizer.
Yet, it only resulted in one point for a shorthanded Black and Gold squad. A tough break on David Pastrnak’s breakaway attempt with Mikhail Sergechev’s uncalled hooking penalty led directly to Steven Stamkos blasting home the game-winner on a 2-on-1 during the 3-on-3 extra session.
Given the circumstances, the Bruins established a solid foundation moving forward following the 3-2 overtime loss. Here’s what we learned after the B’s earned points in two of their three games without Marchand.
Boston’s D stepped up without McAvoy and Zboril
The Bruins needed that next-man-up structure to shine if they had any chance of tallying points against the Lightning. Only this time, the Joe Sacco-led Bruins needed a significant outing from their back-end without McAvoy and Zboril.
The pairings on this particular outing looked more like an AHL defensive core. Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo moved up to the top pair. A returning Connor Clifton slotted opposite Reilly on the second pair. And Jack Ahcan’s recall from Providence following its improved COVID situation resulted in third pair minutes with the big club alongside Derek Forbort.
The makeshift defensive unit held Stamkos and company to 18 5v5 shots on net in regulation. Their lone goal allowed at full-strength came off Nosek’s skates on Palat’s slap pass in the slot 3:36 into the middle stanza. The Lightning scored their two other markers on hiccup by Reilly on Boston’s only power-play attempt and Stamkos’ OT clincher.
Though he wasn’t as sharp compared to Thursday’s 42-save shutout in Nashville, the Bruins received timely saves from Jeremy Swayman late in regulation.
Every Bruin from the D out put forth a top-tier effort. It didn’t result in two points, but they at least have a blueprint to work with following their tough three-game slate.
“I thought they all showed up and competed tonight,” Sacco said of the effort from Boston’s back-end.
Bruins building cohesion through adversity
Every team in the NHL faces certain obstacles during a long season. In a seven-day span, the Bruins encountered a plethora of roadblocks fit for an 82-game slate.
Surely, a bitter 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings provided grumbles from the social media and sports radio hot-take artists. And the few disgruntled fans and media personalities will cherry-pick the negatives from Saturday for their Monday morning quarterback routine.
And granted, the Bruins aren’t in the clear at all. They have a looming decision with Tuukka Rask and DeBrusk’s impending trade to hash out. But with their next-man-up mindest, they put themselves in a decent spot heading into their three-game road trip through Western Canada.
“I think you learn to work with adversity, whether it’s guys out, coaches out, injuries, what have you,” Coyle said. “It’s never going to be a perfect scenario. You’ve got to work through these things, and there’s more responsibility and opportunity for other guys to step up and kind of pull the rope a little more and help out a good player or whoever it is in the lineup.”
Any Bruins fan would’ve likely scratched their head if someone approached them proclaiming they’d take points in two of three games without Marchand. And surely they would’ve acted similarly if someone told them they’d take the Lightning to overtime without Marchand and McAvoy.
With at least one reinforcement on its way, the Bruins head into Wednesday’s tilt with the lowly Vancouver Canucks with a little momentum. Yet, the coaching staff will have important decisions ahead of them heading into their first Western Canadian trip since Feb. 2020.
What will the Bruins’ lines look like when Marchand returns?
The ripple effect of Marchand’s absence forced the Bruins into a top-heavy lineup.
Taylor Hall filled Marchand’s first line vacancy, thus forming a temporary trio with Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. With an extra pep in his step, Hall tallied one assist in the three-game span, yet looks a little snakebitten with all his quality scoring chances — including Saturday’s breakaway attempt early in the third period — going for naught.
Amid a rough patch, Hall found his stride in one of his better stretches of the season effort-wise. Now he’ll aim for consistency and results upon his potential reunion with Coyle.
“Obviously [Marchand] is coming back next game, and we’ll have to meet and talk about the lines with Butch [Cassidy] and see where we go,” Sacco said. “Obviously with Taylor — hopefully, he continues to pick up where he left off with whoever he’s playing with. He can play like that no matter who he’s playing with. He just has to keep that mindset.”
Marchand’s return and Hall reuniting with Coyle presumably fills five spots in Boston’s top-six. Filling out the other seven forward spots won’t come easy.
DeBrusk will likely become the odd-man-out again, given the hovering circumstances surrounding his trade request. A potential return for Blidh — who skated prior to Boston’s pregame skate on Saturday — could throw a wrinkle into the bottom six.
The recent chemistry with Coyle and Haula might entice the Bruins coaching staff enough to give the duo an extended look on the second line. That would leave Craig Smith and Nick Foligno potentially flanking the wings on the third line.
Important lie decisions lie ahead. But the Bruins won’t mind encountering this conundrum following their tumultuous week.
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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