Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

No late-game hero can fix complacent defense

Sara Civian
May 03, 2018 - 1:20 am

Fiction writers will tell you the hardest part of their job is the need to make things seem realistic. Steven Stamkos’ first point of the Bruins-Lightning series was an empty netter at the tail end of Game 3 -- that’s some reality that wouldn’t make it past a fiction editor.

What’s even stranger is -- unlike Auston Matthews’ fate in Round 1 -- the Lightning haven’t needed their star(s) to steal the 2-1 series lead. The Bruins kind of handed that to them in Game 3, so Ondrej Palat just ran with it for two goals.

Don’t pin this all on Matt Grzelcyk. His was the first mistake, and losing track of the puck in the defensive zone to give one of the fastest offenses in the league some room is never great.    

“That happens to anybody,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You’d like to be able to put a fire out, defend the two on one better, or get a save, but at the end of the day, they make a good play from it. You’ve got to manage the puck first, and then once you don’t have it anymore, you’ve got to have a certain level of structure and urgency to get it back, and we didn’t.”

We know these Bruins by now. They can handle starting down a goal, maybe some of them even revel in the challenge of the chase. They certainly have the experience, if the regular season and Game 7 were any indication.

So lay off Grzelcyk. The problem was the team-wide lack of reaction to what should’ve been a wake up call.

“We came back in the regular season,” Riley Nash said, “but playing a team like Tampa Bay, it’s hard to spot them two or three and expect to come back and win should’ve been like 5-0 (if it wasn’t for) Tuuks (Tuukka Rask).”

One goal has never quite scared this team, though maybe it should start to. Now the Bruins are 0-3 when trailing after the first in the postseason. They’re 4-1 when scoring first, and 1-4 when allowing the first goal.

Down by two goals not even four minutes into the game? Can’t expect anyone to hero them out of that.

The urgency can’t just be there after one goal, or just when the Bruins have the puck. Game 3 served a reminder that they need that mentality to even get the puck in the first place.

“From there (Grzelcyk’s mistake), we didn’t defend the front of our net,” Cassidy said. “We need to defend better. Intensity, urgency, pick you word. We didn’t have it.”

If finishing chances was Round 1’s issue, defense and the lack of urgency to create puck possession that would even spark chances is the new problem. ‘

How do they fix it?

“It’s a battle of the slots,” Torey Krug offered. “We got to do our job on our end and we’ll transit down to the other end. It starts in our end.”

 For once after a loss, Tuukka Rask wasn’t taking the brunt of the heat in the court of public opinion. His Game 4 preparation is exactly what it should be:

“Go home, sleep, enjoy the sunshine tomorrow, watch some video.” he said. “That’s about it.”

The guys who are supposed to protect his net will have a little more to think about.


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