The Bruins saw three leads rapidly evaporate before their eyes on Thursday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins saw three leads rapidly evaporate before their eyes on Thursday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

When the Bruins blew their first lead of the night on Thursday, it was far from ideal, but it was acceptable at that stage of the game. It was fair to expect some pushback from a Lightning club that’s even closer to death’s door than the Bruins. When the B’s blew their second lead of the night, it became annoying and cause for concern in what should have been a mismatch considering the Bolts’ poor health and inconsistent play. And when the Bruins blew their third and final lead of a night that finished as a 6-3 loss for the club, it became downright unacceptable for a team that’s worked themselves into as much trouble as the Bruins have over the course of their four-game losing skid.

How does this happen to this team with so much on the line in this game, not once, not twice, but three times. In the same period, no less.

“I think if there was an easy answer, we would’ve solved it after the first or second time to be quite honest,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said after the loss, the club’s fourth in a row, a new season high (and longest since the five-game slide around this time a year ago). “It happened the other night against Ottawa, as well.”

It actually goes beyond Ottawa, too.

When you take a look at the B’s four-game slide, allowing the team to come back at them with a counterstrike has been a constant theme of their downfall. Opponents have scored within five minutes of a Boston goal on six different occasions throughout this losing streak (the Bruins have only scored 11 goals over that span). And it’s really only been able to happen 10 times, too, if you exclude Dominic Moore’s garbage time goal scored with mere seconds left in the game against the Maple Leafs. So, more than half the time the B’s have scored, they’ve blown it and found themselves back even or back in the same hole just moments later.

That inability to build off goals and also keep the opposition off the board with immediate responses played a major factor in their thwarted comeback attempt in Edmonton, and turned a three-goal period into a six-goal period — and not the good kind — on Thursday night at TD Garden. You could make the case that those nights cost the Bruins about three points, at the very least.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” admitted Cassidy, who has been let down across the board by his team during this free fall. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year, so it’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.”

“Not being focused, not being sharp, and obviously that’s, at this time of the year, unacceptable, and it’s up on us to be better,” echoed team captain Zdeno Chara. “I mean, those kinds of situations shouldn’t happen.”

The manner in which the situations developed before the B’s very eyes were almost impossibly bad, too.

On the Lightning’s first goal, which came 44 seconds after David Pastrnak’s power-play goal to open up the game’s scoring, Brayden Point was allowed multiple chances against Tuukka Rask and did it with the Bruins’ most responsible three-man unit — Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand — around him. Skilled rookie or not, that should never happen.

Tampa Bay’s second goal, which came just 24 seconds after Chara scored his second shorthanded goal of the season to put the Bruins back up by one, was a rocket by Nikita Kucherov scored on the power play. And while you expect Kucherov to get his chances (he entered the game tied for the league lead in power-play goals and left the game in sole possession of the most power-play goals in the NHL), it came on a play that the Bruins openly talked about taking away from the Lightning before the game.

The third Lightning goal came just 1:35 after Riley Nash banked a puck in off Victor Hedman to put the Bruins up by one for a third time in the period, and was the direct result of a flimsy three-on-two at the other end that did nothing for the Bruins. It was on that play that Rask seemed to anticipate a dropback pass, which didn’t come, as the puck was instead shoveled to Anton Stralman, who was able to activate into the attacking zone with numbers — it was a four-on-two — to beat Rask shortside.

And by the time the Lightning took the lead in the third period — first seized on a bad goal allowed by Rask on a Jonathan Drouin shot, and then extended by Kucherov’s second power-play goal of the night, a pinball-style goal that bounced off two B’s and into the net for their fifth of six goals — the Bruins were long resigned to defeat and the idea of going out with a whimper.

What’s concerning, beyond allowing three separate leads slip away in a combined 2:43 of hockey of course, is that the shifts that came after goals scored were probably some of the least energetic put forth by the Black and Gold all night long. It wasn’t that same bury ’em type of fire you saw the team roll with early in the Cassidy Era, which started off with four straight victories and pucks just pummeled on net all night long, but rather the same malaise that led to Claude Julien’s dismissal in February.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response and to show that you’re not going away. I don’t think they were our best shifts,” B’s forward David Backes admitted after the loss. “They were probably some of our least form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team. They certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But, I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again.”

If there’s one thing these Bruins know, too, it’s that the combination of not getting points while also leading into your competition — two ‘accomplishments’ noted by Backes — is one that’s not fit for a season that goes beyond 82 contests.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Hey, so this is gross. No, like, this is really gross.

I’m warning you.

(Please don’t say that I didn’t warn you.)

Late in the first period of Thursday’s head-to-head between the Senators and visiting Penguins, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby hacked at Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot as Methot entered into the Pittsburgh zone on a four-on-four sequence.

Methot let out a scream, played stopped, and it was obvious to why he was in pain as soon as his glove came off.

Oh, God. I knew it was coming and it was still gross.

The dude legitimately lost part of his fingertip because of a Crosby slash. While these slashes are far from uncommon, rarely do you ever see a player with as much damage to their hand or finger as Methot did when he left the game.

“His finger is destroyed,” Sens coach Guy Boucher said of Methot after the game. “It’s shattered and he’s out for weeks.”

Crosby, who was not penalized for the slash on the play, tried to plead his case after the game.

“I was just trying to get his stick and I think I caught his finger judging by his reaction and their reaction,” said Crosby, who also got away with a vicious spear to Ryan O’Reilly’s midsection the other day. “I’ve gotten those before. They don’t feel good.”

Groin shots, finger removals, and zero penalties. All in a week for the game’s best player. Curious to see if Crosby picks up a minor for actually beheading somebody on the ice this weekend. Matching minors at the very best for the beheaded, maybe.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Zdeno Chara hit a milestone with his second shorthanded goal of the season. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

Zdeno Chara hit a milestone with his second shorthanded goal of the season. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

On a night of few positives as the club’s losing streak reached a season-worst four games, this one by a 6-3 final at the hands of the Lightning, the Bruins found just one as the 40-year-old Zdeno Chara accomplished something not seen in over two decades.

With the Bruins on the penalty kill in the second period, and with Chara’s go-to pairing partner in the box, the Bruins started a rush up ice and loose puck found its way to a storming Chara. And with a slight assist from the Lightning’s Victor Hedman, who helped steer the puck Chara’s with a botched clearing attempt, Chara sniped the B’s second goal of the night home against the Bolts’ Peter Budaj for a 2-1 lead.

In what was Chara’s eighth goal of the season, the shorthanded marker stood as Big Z’s second shortie of the season, which makes him the first Bruins defenseman to record multiple shorthanded goals in a season since Ray Bourque accomplished the feat in 1995-96 (two goals).

It also makes Chara just the seventh defenseman in team history to hit that milestone — Bourque did it three times, Bobby Orr accomplished it a franchise-best four times, while Don Sweeney, Glen Wesley, Dick Redmond, and Dallas Smith each score multiple shorties one time during their respective Bruins tenures — and just the 17th NHL defender to do it since 2005.

Still, the shorthanded goal could not save a B’s penalty kill that surrendered two power-play goals in the loss, both from Nikita Kucherov, and finished the night with just three kills on five stints down a skater.

“We had obviously some bad bounces. It’s going to happen, the last one. We need to be better. Starts obviously with us, who are out on the ice,” Chara said of the team’s penalty kill, which has allowed seven goals on their last 19 times shorthanded. “We need to take away other team’s top plays, give them as little as possible, and be willing to do whatever it takes to kill those, and yeah, we need to be better. I mean, it’s been working for us the whole year. We know we can do the job. Obviously, it’s slipped the past few games. We need to go back, and bounce back and be on a roll, and kill those penalties.”

Chara has played a league-high 250:16 of shorthanded time on ice this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

A broken skate blade turned out to be the least of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask’s worries in a 6-3 loss to the Lightning on Thursday.

Bruce Cassidy thinks the Bruins needed more from Tuukka Rask in their loss to the Lightning. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy thought the team needed more from Tuukka Rask in their loss to the Lightning. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

A broken skate blade turned out to be the least of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask’s worries in a 6-3 loss to the Lightning on Thursday.

In the club’s fourth straight regulation defeat (their longest such streak this season, as a four-game slide from Jan. 16 to Jan. 22 featured one shootout loss), the 30-year-old Rask struggled with five goals allowed on just 28 Tampa Bay shots thrown his way on the night.

If those numbers weren’t bad enough for Rask, the manner in which the Bolts scored against Rask was nothing short of straight-up backbreaking, with counterattack goals scored immediately after each of the B’s goals scored, and with none taking longer than 1:35 of game time to end up in the back of Rask’s net.

“Well he’s played a lot, but I don’t have the answer,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked if Rask’s struggles were a product of fatigue or lack of focus.

“He needed to be better tonight.”

It was on a two-shot flurry in front of Rask that Brayden Point scored the game’s first goal. A Nikita Kucherov power-play bomb accounted for their second goal, Anton Stralman activated — apparently to the surprise of the B’s defense, who did not match him in any possible way — and was in all alone short side for the third goal of the night. As mentioned, all of those goals came right after B’s goals, too, including two under 44 seconds following Black and Gold goals, and sucked the life out of the reeling Bruins.

“That’s the last thing you need honestly. Everybody knows that,” Rask said of the quick Lightning strikes. “You try to address it I guess – that’s the last mistake you need to do – but sometimes those things just happen. When it happens three times in one game it’s kind of inexcusable. It’s something that we should be better at and today it was a tough night for all of us.”

An inexcusable lapse came on the Bolts’ fourth goal of the night, too, where Rask did not make the save that the club desperately needed, as he was beat with a Jonathan Drouin shot that he would have liked to have back, 4:12 into the third period.

“He just – I don’t know,” Rask began. “It was a bad goal.”

“We need to be better in front of him, he needed to be better on some of those goals,” Cassidy acknowledged. “It’s March 24, I mean really, our focus needs to be there, so you hope it’s more fatigue than focus this time of year, but I can only speculate.”

In his third start in four nights (and his 59th of the season, the third-most in the NHL), this game was without question the worst of the three, and there was no attempt to deflect the blame of his showing or use his fatigue as an excuse. In his third season of having the pressure of the B’s world on his shoulders, Rask knows that the team is counting on him for quality starts.

“A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” a visibly upset Rask admitted after the loss. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault.”

In what was a double-whammy, additional frustrations for Rask had to come from the fact that Rask was perhaps the only positive constant that the Bruins had for the first half of this game, with numerous timely saves on some of the Lightning’s top talents.

“There was a couple of times I should’ve made the save but it happens sometimes,” Rask said.

Just at the complete wrong time for the officially slumping Bruins.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Present slump aside, in-game leads have been more than safe in 18 games under Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

The Bruins blew three leads on Thursday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins blew three leads on Thursday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Present slump aside, in-game leads have been more than safe in 18 games under Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

But as the Bruins seem hellbent on dropping into the upside down world for a third straight stretch run, leads were anything but safe in the club’s near must-win against the Lightning on Thursday at TD Garden, and helped propel their downfall in a 6-3 loss to the Bolts.

After a sleepy first period in which space and time was at a premium for both the desperate Bruins and somehow-even-more-desperate Lightning — the highlight of the period came in the B’s end, with Tuukka Rask coming up with two big stops on Nikita Kucherov on a Lightning power play opportunity — the Bruins struck with a power-play courtesy of David Pastrnak just 1:33 into the middle period.

But as the Bruins were caught in their own zone right after the Pastrnak strike, the Lightning countered 44 seconds later, as Brayden Point buried a third-chance look home on Tuukka Rask.

And the theme of the night was established.

On the kill following a Brandon Carlo tripping penalty, the Bruins jumped back out on top behind a Zdeno Chara shorthanded goal ripped up on the Bolts’ Peter Budaj for his eighth goal of the season. The Lightning came right back yet again though, as Kucherov rocketed a puck home for his 35th goal of the season just 24 seconds after the Chara goal.

Riley Nash banked a puck off Victor Hedman and into the Tampa net at the 13:18 mark of the middle frame, but for the third time and in no time, the Lightning drew back even behind an Anton Stralman tally just 1:35 later.

The Bruins had three different leads and blew all three in a combined two minutes and 43 seconds.

In no world is that a recipe for success, and it showed in the third period.

Jonathan Drouin broke in and beat Rask just 4:12 into the third. Playing from behind for the first time all game in a deserved deficit, the Bruins were unable to claw even like the Bolts did to them on three separate occasions, and found their hole doubled when Kucherov fired yet another power-play one-time bomb that bounced off Chara and off Adam McQuaid and into the net.

With 9:49 left in the third period, the Bruins were done for.

Sure, they were gifted a late period power play, much like they were against Ottawa on Tuesday, but the Bruins once again did nothing with that advantage, and listlessly skated to their fourth straight defeat.

It’s impossible to imagine the Bruins taking their own fate out of their hands for a third straight late-season collapse, but it appears that it’s exactly what this team wants to do. And it’s hard to imagine that the strengths of this club are no-showing when it matters most yet again, but here we are. On a night where the Black and Gold simply had to be at their best, they weren’t. Not even close to it, actually. Their penalty kill was a disaster yet again. Their top line couldn’t find the back of the net, though they had chances galore, for the third game in a row. Their defense looked overmatched by a severely shorthanded Lightning squad (who lost Jason Garrison in the second period to add another body to that list), and they had almost no third period response.

This is the kind of loss that’s just straight-up inexcusable this time of year, but anything but a shock.

At least if their recent history tells us anything.

And so it’s on to the fourth must-win of the week on Saturday in Brooklyn.

A game that could end with the Bruins bumped from the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Nikita Kucherov has scored a league-leading 15 power-play goals this season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Nikita Kucherov has scored a league-leading 15 power-play goals this season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Monday was the important game of the season for the Bruins. They lost that contest, though, by a 4-2 final in Toronto. So Tuesday then became the most important game of the season for the Bruins. And after losing that game, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Senators, Thursday against the Lightning has become the most important game of the season.

Oh, and also, do you sense a theme here?

Locked in a dogfight to the finish in search of snapping their two-year playoff drought, the Bruins find themselves mired in a three-game slide, their first under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

One of the biggest letdowns over the course of that three-game slide has been the B’s penalty killing group — which has been a standout for the Black and Gold all season long — that has surrendered five power-play goals against on their last 14 times shorthanded.

“I think some of it is a bit of our composure around clears and fronting shots versus boxing out,” Cassidy said of their shorthanded struggles. “You’re not always going to get it right, those are split second decisions, our D want to eat pucks. They’ve done a great job of it all year and I think the last couple [power-play goals] have gone off our guy and the other we’re trying to block. The effort is there, we just didn’t execute the block and sometime that’s going to happen.”

And they are are counting their lucky stars that Lightning captain and power-play wizard Steven Stamkos is not in the lineup tonight… until they realize who else is in action for the desperate Bolts.

Winger Nikita Kucherov, who enters action in a three-way tie for the most power-play goals in the NHL, has become the de facto captain of a Lightning man advantage that enters play as the seventh-best unit in the NHL, and has torched goalies for 15 power-play goals and 27 power-play points in total.

“I think a lot of goals come from the flank there where Kucherov gets one-timers, so cutting that off would be pretty important,” Bruins forward Riley Nash said about the Lightning power play. “Not letting them comfortable and not letting them get the looks they want to get. Make them go to their second, third, and fourth options and take them out of their comfort zone and put them in situations where they’re not used to playing.”

Tampa’s power-play has gone 2-for-10 against the Bruins this season, but are 0-for-6 in their last two games against the B’s

“We want to get back to posting zeros in those situations,” Cassidy said.

Tuukka Rask gets the call in net for the Bruins. Rask stopped 19-of-22 shots in Tuesday’s loss to the Senators. The 30-year-old Rask is 3-0-0 with saves on 75 of 82 shots thrown his way in three games against the Lightning this year.

The Bolts counter with Peter Budaj. The veteran Budaj has one win in two starts for the Lightning since being traded to Tampa Bay from Los Angeles in the Ben Bishop deal, and is 0-2-0 against the B’s this season.

Tampa Bay comes into play five points behind the Bruins for the second wild card spot in the East, and with one game in hand, so this is more than a must-win for Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s group.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Drew Stafford – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Noel Acciari

Matt Beleskey – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Colin Miller – Kevan Miller

Tuukka Rask

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy is not worrying about what's out of his control.</p>
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Noel Acciari has been promoted to the third line. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Noel Acciari has been promoted to the third line for tonight’s game against the Lightning. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Forward Noel Acciari has apparently made an impression in his first two games under Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

Originally an emergency recall (but transitioned into a regular recall midway through his first game up with the club), the 25-year-old banger has chipped in with an assist, four shots on goal, and five hits in a combined 20:27 of time on ice between losses to the Leafs and Senators to start the B’s increasingly do-or-die week.

It’s the workmanlike sample that’s to be expected from Acciari, and one prompted Cassidy, whose team has dropped three games in a row for the first time since he took over for Claude Julien, to give No. 55 an actual promotion for the first time in his NHL career.

Slated as the right-side complement to the Black and Gold’s third line with Ryan Spooner at center and Frank Vatrano to the left when the Bruins play host to the desperate Lightning tonight at TD Garden, Acciari’s boost up to the third line is just one of several made in another day of line changes.

Something that Cassidy has somewhat made his calling card in 18 games behind the bench.

“It gives you guys something to talk about,” Cassidy joked of his line changes after the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena.

But there is a method to the madness of moving an energy skater to the club’s third line, too.

“I think [Spooner and Vatrano] play well with a guy that gets to the net. Frank’s a shooter, Spooner’s a disher. They need somebody going to the net,” Cassidy, who has tried Jimmy Hayes, Drew Stafford, and Matt Beleskey there before giving Acciari a shot tonight, said. “I thought Noel’s done a good job on the fourth line. They create traffic in front of the net. Clearly he doesn’t have a resume as a goal scorer. We know that. We’re gonna give him an opportunity to get there and see how it works out.”

Of course, this isn’t Cassidy nor the B’s first look at Acciari, who has skated in 21 NHL games this year. Acciari also played in 45 games for the P-Bruins last year with Cassidy at the helm, and it was under Cassidy’s watch a year ago that Acciari tallied seven goals and 19 points and eventually earned his way into a late season, 19-game callup with the Big B’s. The Rhode Island native also had a 30-game run with Providence between NHL recalls this year, too, with six goals and 14 points for the P-Bruins.

“We’ve encouraged all of our forwards to hang onto [the puck] a little more, so that’s part of it. I think part of it is maturity, just playing more hockey and working on building his offensive game,” Cassidy said of Acciari’s offensive development. “He finished last year [in Providence] — I put him in the middle between Vatrano and [Seth] Griffith so he could see more pucks and make more plays because if he’s going to grow and be an NHL player, you have to have a certain level of skill and offensive ability.”

Acciari’s promotion to the Spooner line also keeps the pairs that Cassidy likes to have — Spooner and Vatrano, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and David Krejci and David Pastrnak — together, but puts a player of a different skill-set in a position to add an element that the club believes can lead to a more balanced four-line group for the club.

“Even though you may be a fourth line energy guy first and foremost, and you may be groomed to be a penalty-kill, at the end of the day you still need to make plays in today’s game, you still gotta create some level of offense,” Cassidy said. “We just gotta get the finish. That’s what we’re looking for with [Acciari]. And I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that he’s frustrated.”

That frustration has bled its way into the record books, too.

Currently, Acciari has fired the eighth-most shots on goal without having recorded a goal in the franchise’s history, with 37 shots and zero goals, and Jeff Hoggan (53 shots and zero goals) is the only other forward in franchise history to put more shots on goal and not scored a goal. Matt Bartkowski, by the way, leads all B’s skaters in club history, with zero goals on 169 shots in a B’s uniform (although as you would remember, Bartkowski did score a playoff goal back in Game 7 against Toronto in 2013).

“But he’s getting opportunities and I think that [finish] will come if he continues to get his opportunities,” Cassidy said of Acciari’s need to bear down in the attacking zone. “I think everybody when they’re in the league a little longer gets more confident.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson