In the first game of a intriguing second round series between a team with one former Ranger in the lineup against a team with five ex-Rangers, Team Nash defeated the Tampa Blueshirts 6-2 earlier today.
That would be the Bruins who took a 1-0 lead in the Atlantic Division Final against the Lightning to take away home ice advantage. Despite getting outplayed and severely outshot, Boston made the most of their chances. They scored five times on 23 shots past Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy, who to be honest wasn’t at fault on most of the goals.
Even though at times they struggled with Tampa’s depth and speed defensively, the Bruins still boasted the best line in hockey. That line of The Rat, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David “Pasta” Pastrnak destroyed the Lightning by combining for three goals and 11 points with a plus-12 rating.
They were so dominant that it didn’t matter that Tampa coach Jon Cooper had the last change to get the match up he wanted of ex-Blueshirts Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman with normally reliable second line Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point. The end result was victimizing all five for some dreadful plus-minuses. Try minus-four for Stralman and Palat. Minus-three for Johnson and McDonagh. A jaw dropping minus-five for Point. So those five Bolts went a combined minus-19. That can’t continue the rest of the series.
If I were to pinpoint a turning point in Game 1, I would have to look at the amazing save Tuukka Rask made to rob Palat near the end of the second period. He went post to post on what was a perfect cross ice pass from McDonagh. It looked like the game would be tied at three entering the third. Instead, Rask somehow came across to get his outstretched glove on Palat’s shot to deny the bid.
Rask was fantastic in this one finishing with 34 saves including a dozen in a crazy and unpredictable second. He was by far busier and had to make the tougher saves than Vasilevskiy, who only had 19 saves.
Despite the faster Bolts having a territorial edge in play early on, the Bruins struck first thanks to Rick Nash. A player who’s always had issues scoring in the postseason throughout his career, he was fantastic for the Bruins scoring twice while playing a 200-foot game. Easily one of his best in the playoffs.
With former teammate Ryan Callahan in the penalty box for a bad offensive zone tripping minor, Nash parked his big body in front of Vasilevskiy. He was able to neatly redirect a Pastrnak point shot that was going wide for the game’s first goal on the power play. A really nice deflection for a player who needed it after only having a goal and assist in the first round against the Leafs.
Bergeron made it 2-0 on the opening shift of the second. As usual, linemates Marchand and Pastrnak were involved. It only took 42 seconds for Bergeron to score his second goal in two games. He got his first in the Bruins’ Game 7 win over Toronto. For a player who missed one game in the first round and can’t be 100 percent, you sure wouldn’t know it. He’s the game’s best overall center. Bergeron would go on to add his third goal in two games later along with a helper.
The Lightning answered back quickly with unlikely source Dan Girardi scoring his first postseason goal since 2014. He took a drop from Cedric Paquette and let go of a wrist shot from the right point that deflected off a Bruin up high and past Rask to cut it to 2-1 at 2:31. Girardi has fit in well playing mostly with Norris favorite Victor Hedman in the playoffs. He nearly had his second when he moved up and almost got his stick on a Hedman pass. For a player who doesn’t produce offense, wouldn’t that have been something? No wonder Danny G remains one of my favorite former Blueshirts.
The Bruins had a apparent Marchand goal wiped out due to a crosschecking minor on Pastrnak in the corner. As Bergeron recovered a loose puck and passed for a open Marchand one-time blast past Vasilevskiy, ref Dan O’Halloran called the penalty first which took the goal off the board. While I understood the call, I didn’t think it was blatant enough to wipe out the goal. But it was made giving Tampa a power play.
After killing the penalty, Boston came in transition through the neutral zone. A David Krejci drop to Nash allowed him to step in and snap a perfect wrist shot top shelf inside the crossbar for a 3-1 Bruins lead. Just a well executed play with Nash given the room he never had with the Rangers.
A questionable Jake DeBrusk minor for interference allowed the Bolts another opportunity to climb back in it. That’s when things got very confusing. On the power play, Tampa was attacking when Rask’s skate blade snapped. With the Boston goalie trying to get the refs’ attention, play continued. Eventually, Mikhail Sergachev fired a shot from the point that beat a enraged Rask, who vehemently protested.
Thinking the play should’ve been blown dead due to his equipment issue, Rask went nuts tossing his blade. In actuality, they got it right. According to Rule 14, if it’s a equipment issue, the player is responsible. Loose Translation: Play continues. Had it been the mask coming off, it would’ve been a automatic whistle. Maybe Rask should’ve risked it.
Instead, the game was 3-2. Tampa really came after the Bruins for the rest of the period. But Rask wouldn’t allow them to get it tied with his strong denial on Palat the save of the game.
The third was a awesome display of execution and skill by the Boston top line. First, Marchand was his pesky self when he got free of a Johnson check to deflect home a Charlie McAvoy shot for a 4-2 lead at 3:32 to give the Bruins some breathing room. Prior to that, they went almost 10 minutes without a shot.
The Lightning were never the same. Marchand made a smart play to set up Bergeron’s second of the day. On the forecheck, he took a Pastrnak pass down low and created enough space between Stralman to make a great back pass for a wicked Bergeron one-timer by Vasilevskiy for a 5-2 lead with 9:49 left. Marchand finished with a goal and three assists. When he wasn’t in on the goals, he was driving the Bolts batty during scrums including another near kiss with him greeting Johnson, who was none too pleased throughout.
The Lightning got one more power play. For some inexplicable reason, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for a six on four with under seven minutes left. They never came close to scoring.
Even more stupefying was that Vasilevskiy stayed on the bench when Boston returned to even strength. It was the most idiotic move I’ve ever seen a coach make. And I’ve seen some bad ones before. Especially from former Rangers bench boss Alain Vigneault and even predecessor John Tortorella.
It didn’t take long for the Bruins to accept Cooper’s early gift. DeBrusk took a Marchand feed in the neutral zone and fired the puck into the empty net for the rookie’s sixth of the postseason with 6:19 remaining.
Here are our three stars:
STARS ✨ OF THE GAME
3rd Star ⭐️ Tuukka Rask Bruins 34 saves
2nd Star ⭐️ Rick Nash Bruins 2 goals
1st Star ⭐️ Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak 3-8-11
Postseason Notes: Game 2 is Monday. Tampa really needs it for their confidence. With the exception of Nikita Kucherov, the top line struggled. Particularly captain Steven Stamkos, who blew some pointblank chances off Kucherov passes. J.T. Miller had a big hit but was too quiet. … They’re playing Game 2 in Vegas on NBC. The Golden Knights easily took Game 1 of the Pacific Division Final 7-0 over the Sharks. They’re without Evander Kane, who was suspended a game for a ill advised crosscheck to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare after a whistle that bloodied his face. He’s playing tonight. … In the oh so surprising, the Caps blew a 2-0 lead in Game 1 of the Metro Division Final to fall to the Pens 3-2. 🙁😌 I’m not watching that series. No reason. I’ll watch the other three.
Winnipeg is up 1-0 on Nashville after taking Game 1 of the Central Division Final 4-1. Mark Scheifele scored twice including a shorthanded goal and Connor Hellebuyck stood on his head with 47 saves. He truly was amazing. Game 2 is tomorrow night at 7 PM.