Anderson: Loss to Lightning isn't worth overreaction

Ty Anderson
April 04, 2018 - 12:40 am

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s absolutely worth mentioning that the Lightning had infinitely more to lose than the Bruins did Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.

Just consider Tampa Bay’s place in the Eastern Conference heading into Tuesday's 4-0 victory over the Bruins: Down captain Steven Stamkos (lower-body) and facing a potential season-series sweep at the hands of the Bruins (the same Boston club many expect them to battle in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring), this was as desperate a situation as the Lightning had been in all season. Given their borderline wire-to-wire dominance, that’s saying something.

A loss on Tuesday and the Lightning would have essentially kissed any chance of first place goodbye, and with the Bruins still holding a game in hand advantage over the club.

If they were not going to do everything they could to make the Bruins downright uncomfortable, then we would have been able to label them gutless frauds prime for a first-round flameout.

Tampa Bay simply applied the positives of last Thurday’s loss to their start against a Black and Gold team that straight-up punked them last week. Look at the way they pushed Ryan Donato around early, and how Nikita Kucherov jumped on Zdeno Chara and try to tell me that Jon Cooper didn’t push the right buttons, too. This was something that the Bruins, playing their third game in four nights (and second against Tampa in the last six days alone), could not match, and something the Lightning undoubtedly took advantage of with a downright relentless forecheck. Ryan Callahan beating Torey Krug to a potential icing and Chris Kunitz scoring moments later spoke to this exact worry.

The Bolts, as expected, played this game like a must-win. The Bruins did not. And if we’re being honest, it was a must-win for one team (pst, that team was not the Bruins).

…”But this is a game that the Bruins should have had circled on their calendar!”

This was a definite rivalry game. But aren’t we all so far beyond this storyline by now?

This team has been engaged in playoff-like head-to-heads for well over a month now, and they’ve come out on top more often than not.

The Bruins have had some huge character wins in the last month alone, and told us a lot about who they are along the way, with massive comebacks to shorthanded victories, including wins in both of their prior showdowns with the Bolts in the last month alone. That first game featured some stellar play from Tuukka Rask, and the second game showed what the B's deep forward group can do if they're given time and space against Tampa Bay's defense. Break it down and the B’s are still up 2-1 in ‘meaningful’ meetings with the Bolts. You can tell me that tonight’s game was the most important, and I can flip it and say that Thursday’s win was just as important. It’s all subjective, and it’s really just a preview of what’s to come in the postseason.

They’re not the only ones taking games seriously, which is to say that they’re going to lose even some of the most important games along the way to a potential Stanley Cup.

In other words, sorry to disappoint, but the Bruins aren’t going 16-0 in the playoffs. I guess it’s better to learn this now than have a meltdown when they're in a 1-1 series tie in the first round.

...“But Rask let the team down in another big moment!”

Make no mistake about it, Rask was not at his best in this game. He should’ve stopped the Brayden Point goal that put the Bolts up 1-0 early in the second period, and the Bruins definitely could have gotten an emotional life from a could-have-been save on either the Victor Hedman or Kunitz goal. And I’m not naive to the simple fact that there’s almost no way to positively spin a 32-of-36 performance in a game of this importance.

But you’re being absolutely unreasonable if you don’t acknowledge the fact that the 31-year-old netminder was simply under siege for the first 40 minutes of play. He didn’t break until the 21st Lightning shot of the game, and when Hedman made it 2-0, it was on the 30th shot against of the night -- and the game was just 31 minutes old. (The Bruins, mind you, entered play having allowed the second-fewest shots a night, at 29.1 per game.) This was an uncharacteristically bad night for the B’s defense, as well as Rask.

Oh, and Rask came into play in the midst of a hot streak, with just six goals surrendered and a .952 save percentage in his last four appearances. Those performances do not suddenly become invalid or meaningless after one bad night. That’s like throwing Brad Marchand’s March out the window because of Tuesday’s minus-2 rating, or saying Patrice Bergeron is not a leader because of his three missed shots.

Should Rask follow this ‘meh’ performance up with another stinker against either the Panthers or Senators, then you’re totally allowed to sound the alarms before Game 1.

…”But this means that first place is officially a thing of the past!”

Not quite. Not even close, actually.

The Bruins and Bolts may be tied at 110 points, but the odds still favor the Bruins.

Tampa Bay will finish their season with head-to-heads against the Sabres and Hurricanes. That’s not exactly the most promising schedule if you’re a Boston fan, but the Lightning have just one win in three games against the Sabres this year, while the Hurricanes are a surprising 3-4-0 against Eastern Conference playoff teams since March. Oh, and there’s a chance that Stamkos does not play in either game.

The Bruins, meanwhile, wrap up their season with two games against the Panthers sandwiched around a Saturday night meeting against the hopeless Senators. Clinging to life support and needing all sorts of help, the Panthers are going to be the most desperate team in hockey when they skate against the Bruins on Thursday, yes.

But the last time these teams met under similar circumstances -- y’know, last Saturday -- the Bruins not only beat them, but ripped their damn throat out with five increasingly easy-looking goals against James Reimer. I have a hard time imagining that it could be as simple of a fix as the Cats turning to Roberto Luongo. Oh, and barring a setback suffered Tuesday, the Bruins will have both Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy in their lineup for that game, two invaluable talents that missed last Saturday’s game in Boston.

As for the Senators, the Bruins have outscored them 13-to-3 this season. So, yeah.

But the biggest thing working in the B’s favor heading into this final stretch is simple arithmetic. The Bolts have two games left, and the Bruins have three. Both teams are playing teams that they’ve handled relatively well this season. Winning out, or coming close to it (a 2-0-1 record, for example), means that the Bruins finish in first.

It’s more than doable, and something that should let you sleep easier after a 4-0 loss.

At least if you truly know this Bruins team that’s gone through just three different stretches of multiple regulation losses this year (and one since December), anyway.