When it comes to embarrassing Bruins losses in the Bruce Cassidy era, Game 3 on Wednesday night has to rank above all else.
The Bruins took a trio of penalties that led to three of Tampa’s first four goals. Once Jaroslav Halak headed for the exit door, so too did the Bruins’ effort on defense. That was palpable on the Lightning’s final three goals: breakaway, breakaway plus an easy follow-up and John Moore dangled.
Dan Vladar, making his NHL debut in Game 3 in relief for Halak, was hung out to dry.
7-1 loss. Down 2-1 in the series, although the deficit feels much larger after Tampa Bay swept the floor with the Spoked B.
“We’re going to have to move on from this game,” Zdeno Chara said via Zoom after the 7-1 loss. “Obviously, not our best game. We realize that was one of those games that nobody wants to look at. Definitely something that we have to move forward from and get ready for the next one.”
So many things went wrong for the Bruins in the loss. You can look right up and down the lineup.
In net, Halak looked like he was on the second night of a back-to-back, allowing four goals on 16 shots. The Bruins defensive crew in front of him and Vladar did their goaltenders no favors. Brandon Carlo struggled for the second straight game and Chara seems to be having issues returning to form from the four-month pause.
On offense, the Bruins showed zero signs of life outside of Brad Marchand’s power play goal. Playing with 11 forwards, the fourth line pretty much didn’t exist, the Charlie Coyle line didn’t contribute much offensively and the Patrice Bergeron line was shut down. You would’ve needed a magnifying glass to notice the David Krejci line during Game 3.
The Bruins were outshot 18-8 in the second period. With five minutes remaining in that same period, Boston was down 12-2 in shots.
Life without the Bergeron line producing at 5-on-5 was ugly for the Bruins. Like the lack of defensive effort, the lack of any secondary offense created was obvious.
“You kind of got to bear down at the start of the second period, first 10 minutes, and we weren’t able to do that,” Cassidy said. “Sort of tilt the ice back in our favor and they took full advantage of the opportunities given to them in the first period and after for that matter. So, then it gets away from you and I think you’re just starting to build your game for Game 4 more than anything.”
Cassidy’s lineup changes prior to Game 3 didn’t work out either. Moore and Jeremy Lauzon were brought in to replace Connor Clifton and neither had any impact. Lauzon could be seen chasing Yanni Gourde down on a breakaway. Moore was duped by Brayden Point’s outstanding puck skills on Tampa’s seventh goal.
By that point, it didn’t matter. The Bruins were crushed.
“As a whole, let’s face it, they were better than us in every facet of the game,” Cassidy said. “We got our work cut out for us but it’s one loss and put our best foot forward in Game 4. Try to even the series then by playing a lot better and a lot smarter.”
The biggest question coming from a game like this is a simple one: is this series over? Have the Lightning done enough to demoralize the Bruins?
In most instances, it would be a definite no. This was the third game of potentially seven. With two teams that are this good, you can expect tons of momentum swings. Different players will turn it on at different times. Each game is separate from the other.
You like all the cliches I just used? That sounded like those infamous interviews with out-of-breath players during the intermissions.
At any rate, this isn’t like those normal instances.
The Lightning were slightly better in Game 1, yet the Bruins pulled out the 3-2 win despite a late push by the Bolts. Boston almost did the same thing in Game 2, but Tampa Bay was too much better than the Bruins, and the Lightning tied the series.
Then Game 3 happened. The Lightning were 7-1-better than the Bruins. The air felt like it was sucked straight out of Boston’s balloon. Halak’s lost his magic touch on Thursday night and the defense couldn’t quite find the right note. Those round robin scoring issues made an appearance and against a very good Lightning defense, it’s hard to imagine they disappear with ease.
The other aspect that makes it feel like this series sits heavily in favor of the Lightning is that Vladar entering into the game didn’t light a fire underneath the Bruins. When the starter gets pulled, the team usually finds a way to rally around the backup and right the ship in most instances.
That certainly wasn’t how Thursday night went, although the Bruins did admit once the Lightning went up 4-1, they were “deflated”.
“It was 4-1, I believe, and Tampa got energized from that second period and I think we were deflated,” Cassidy said of putting Vladar in. “I just had a gut feeling our guys were going to have a tough time pushing back from three goals down, so let’s look at Vladdy.”
Coming back from giving up seven goals in a postseason game is no easy task. The one exception was the St. Louis Blues who did it in Game 3 of last year’s Cup Final and then went on to…well, you know the rest.
The Lightning are the best team on paper and through three games, they’ve found the formula for shutting the Bruins down in key areas.
It’s completely and entirely possible the Bruins rebound and come back from their embarrassing performance in Game 3 to win the series. But given how the Bruins looked in Games 1, 2 and 3, it just doesn’t feel like that’s bound to happen.