When Brad Marchand tied the game with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining the Bruins suddenly had a terrific opportunity.
The Lightning had carried the play for much of the night. They outshot the Bruins and initiated most of the physicality. Tampa probably deserved to win at that point, but that didn’t matter. The Bruins didn’t have to be better for 60 minutes anymore, just get the next goal, either late in regulation or in overtime ad steal a victory and a 2-0 lead.
Do that and they could put the bad goal Jaroslav Halak gave up earlier in the period behind them. They’d have a two-game lead and a lot less pressure on their 35-year-old goalie in Wednesday’s Game 3.
But instead, a failed attempt to clear the puck, a problem for Boston all night, gave Tampa an opportunity and they took it early in overtime. Halak stopped eight shots in overtime as the Lightning pinned the Bruins in their own end, before Ondrej Palat beat him.
The Bruins lost despite having a lot of things go in their favor. Tampa was missing leading scorer Steven Stamkos and workhorse defenseman Ryan McDonagh. They got lucky that Barclay Goodrow’s first period goal was called back because of a lazy line change by Brayden Point. It was 100 percent the right call, but it didn’t actually affect the play. The Bruins got a goal from Nick Ritchie that the referee shouldn’t have blown dead but many would have before the puck crossed line.
But despite their good fortune, they still didn’t win. Stamkos almost certainly won’t be back but there’s a chance McDonagh will be. The ice is likely to be slower too. The Islanders and Flyers play their Game 2 at 3 p.m. before the Bruins and Lightning skate at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The second game in the same arena always has a slower sheet and favors the bigger, more physical team.
Simply, winning figures to be tougher Wednesday.
“I think the biggest challenge obviously is the pace. They’re fast games out there. Slow ice makes it a little tougher. Like you said, that’s a team that competes hard and works very hard. To play that two nights in a row, it’s going to be a battle,” Marchand said. “We all play back to backs all the time. No excuses come playoffs time. You have to show up and you have to play. You have to find a way to win. just have to rely on the whole group tomorrow. Everyone is going to have to have their best games if we want to compete with that team.”
Of the nine current Bruins who were on the ice when Boston lost to Tampa in 2018, that series has to be creeping into their heads. Boston dominated Game 1, 6-3 and then lost the next four games by a combined score of 15-7. A win in Game 3 puts that nagging memory to rest.
Bruce Cassidy said he’s still deciding whether to ask Halak to play the second half of the back to back, Wednesday night, but it’s hard to believe he’d make a change in a tied series. Giving Dan Vladar his first NHL appearance in such a critical game would be an enormous gamble and out of character for Cassidy.
The fact that overtime was short makes it pretty certain he’ll tab Halak for what instead could be a defining moment of the goalie’s Bruins career. But it’s not just Halak, who needs to be better.
The Bruins need their defense to be better. Better at clearing the puck, contributing to the offense and clearing out Halak’s field of view.
The second line was largely invisible after a good postseason to this point. They need to be better too. Ondrej Kase took a step backward after looking like he was ready to finally break out.
This is character test time for a team that’s had an abundance of it in recent years. There’s no practice time to make any technical adjustments. It’ll be mostly if the same players trying to do a better job.
“It’s a tough series out there. I think they want to play heavy and fast and they’ve got skill and I think we’ve got all the same things. It turns out to be two good teams going at it head to head,” Sean Kuraly said. “No one wants to go home and you’re kind of seeing the effects of that. … We like our game plan. We like our team. They’ve got a good team. We’re going to come out and try to play the best we can and get the series back one in our direction.”
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: NHL sets start time, TV for Game 5 Sunday
Boston Bruins fall to Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime in Game 2 as series draws even
Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy still deciding if Jaroslav Halak or rookie Dan Vladar will start Game 3, Wednesday
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