Brandon Carlo proves he could be difference if Bruins meet Lightning again

Matt Kalman
March 25, 2019 - 11:12 pm

The third period turned into a nightmare for the Bruins on Monday, as they squandered a 4-2 lead and left Tampa with a 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anthony Cirelli scored the winning goal with 53 seconds left just as a Boston penalty expired in a battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference standings.

There were plenty of mistakes made. There were coverages blown and risks taken by several Bruins that cost them the chance to send a message to the Presidents’ Trophy winners before a possible playoff rematch. The Bruins will host the Lightning in the last game of the regular season, and no one expects that game to send any type of message other than “our stars are resting and we can’t wait for the playoffs to begin.”

So while several Bruins are going to have to learn some lessons about how to protect a lead, against one of the most powerful offenses the NHL has seen in years or any opponent, Boston learned a couple of positive lessons even in defeat.

Primary among the Bruins’ bright spots was Brandon Carlo. The defenseman is in his third season in the NHL and the Bruins qualified for the postseason in each of his first two seasons but he hasn’t played a playoff game yet. Injuries kept him from the tournament each year and he now has six games to stay healthy and be a difference-maker for Boston.

If the first two periods, and much of the third, Monday proved anything, it’s that Carlo is going to close some of the gap between the Bruins and the Lightning if they collide again. Carlo will also help Boston immensely against a Toronto team that now features John Tavares and will probably have Nazem Kadri in the lineup rather than suspended for half the series.

Carlo led the Bruins in ice time with 27:00 on Monday. Some of it wasn’t by design because he had a shift of 3:16 in the second period when the Bruins got hemmed in, and then a shift of 4:40 in the third period when Boston was stuck in the defensive zone, iced the puck twice and then Carlo started the ensuing penalty kill.

But even during those lung-killing shifts, Carlo was a presence and it’s telling that neither shift resulted in a Tampa Bay goal (although J.T. Miller did fire a double-post shot  that ended the second-period marathon shift).

Carlo wound up playing 7:04 of Boston’s 10:39 of shorthanded time while the Bruins went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill.

If that was all Carlo accomplished, it would’ve been a standout night for the 22-year-old who’s known more for his defensive prowess. But Carlo also scored a big goal, which gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead. If the game had ended after 40 minutes, Carlo would’ve been the first star.

Now and again Carlo has gotten a taste of what the playoffs will be like in some high-intensity regular-season games. This was one of those nights a playoff-caliber effort was necessary, and it sure looked like the playoff rookie will be able to respond to the postseason like a grizzled vet.

Can’t calm Clifton

Another positive to come out of Boston’s loss was Connor Clifton’s improved play. He could’ve done a better job defending the downlow play leading up to Cirelli’s game-winning goal but the rookie again was sound at even strength and on the penalty kill, a huge lift for the Bruins considering they lost John Moore to an injury in the first period.

Even better, he showed he can pick up some of the slack for Kevan Miler’s missing ruggedness with two bone-crunching hits – one that knocked Ondrej Palat out of the game in the first period and one that let Mathieu Joseph know entering the Boston zone isn’t easy when Clifton’s on the ice.

Interestingly, the hit on Palat happened early in the game and the Lightning didn’t do anything to retaliate. That’s something David Backes wouldn’t have stood for.

Help on the way

Torey Krug is close to returning to the Bruins’ lineup, and Miller and Matt Grzelcyk could be back within a week. The timing couldn’t be better with Moore going down. Marcus Johansson had hoped to play against the Lightning but not it looks like the wing will be back against the New York Rangers on Wednesday.

 

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