The end came so quickly — four straight losses over seven days — that there may be some temptation for the Bruins and their fans to wonder what hit them.
The answer is pretty obvious. It was the Tampa Bay Lightning, which routinely, relentlessly outplayed and outhit the B’s, even in the only game the Bruins won in the five-game second-round series that ended on Sunday.
This was not a closer-than-it-looked series. After a remarkably efficient, 6-2 win in Game 1, in which they they had only 24 shots on goal, the B’s were outscored 15-7 over the last four games. As everyone knows by now, they didn’t score an even-strength goal after Game 2, and they received almost no offensive contributions from anyone below the top line of Patrice Bergeron (5-3–8 in the series, with at least one point in each game), Brad Marchand (1-7–8 against the Lightning) and David Pastrnak (1-6–7).
All that said, few expected the Bruins to be dominated in a match-up that seemed so even. The B’s finished only one point behind the Eastern Conference leaders during the regular-season, were close in most major statistical categories, and beat the Lightning in three of four regular-season meetings.
Could anyone have seen this coming? In retrospect, maybe.
The Bruins’ hellacious schedule down the stretch — 16 games over 31 days in March, five in the first eight days of April — was certainly a topic for discussion, but as they chased, caught and briefly passed the Lightning in the standings, the pace didn’t seem to be a problem.
It was harder than it looked, though: After completing a sweep of a six-game homestand on March 10, the Bruins played 11 of their last 16 games on the road — two four-game trips in March, a three-game swing in the first week of April. Before returning to TD Garden for the final two games of the regular season, they’d played 11 of 14 on the road.
March was great — 11-2-3. April, not really — 1-3-1, the only victory coming against a Senators team that had long been eliminated from playoff contention. A 4-0 loss at Tampa came on April 3.
Making the generally positive results all the more admirable was that the Bruins did so much without so many top players. Bergeron lost 13 games through March 23 to a broken foot. Top pairing defensemen Charlie McAvoy (knee, 15 games) and Zdeno Chara (9 games, upper body) were sidelined late, as was featured trade deadline acquisition Rick Nash (12 games, concussion) and fourth-line center Sean Kuraly (seven games, upper body). Defenseman Brandon Carlo sustained a season-ending broken ankle on March 31.
All that left a lot of extra ice time in the hands of others, and while nearly everyone responded, cracks began to show. Bad habits, such as slow starts and surrendering goals almost immediately after scoring them, began to surface. The B’s always seemed to be in comeback mode, and while the results were often exciting — they overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit on March 13 to beat the Hurricanes, 6-4, and beat overcame a 2-0 hole with three third-period goals on March 23 against the Stars — playing from behind takes a toll, especially on those who generate offense.
Not enough of that changed in the playoffs, but the results did. The Bruins, who led the league with 21 wins when allowing the game’s first goal, went 1-5 in the post-season when falling behind 1-0. Third-period scoring, a strength during the regular season (95 goals for, 57 against) disappeared against the Lightning after Game 1: The Bruins scored only two third period goals over the final four games, making comebacks virtually impossible.
Whether the stretch drive, or the fact that they allowed the Maple Leafs to make up a 3-1 deficit and take Round 1 to Game 7 (in which the B’s, naturally, had to rally in the third period), wore the Bruins out or not is open to interpretation, and may or may not be something they’ll admit to when they hold Breakup Day on Wednesday.
It sure doesn’t look like it helped, though.
Published at Mon, 07 May 2018 23:24:50 +0000