Everything was backward Thursday night at TD Garden.
The Bruins looked like the better team in their 5-3 loss to the Lightning, but it must have been opposite day in Boston and nobody told them. Goaltender Tuukka Rask normally is solid (league-leading 2.02 goals-against coming into the game) but he allowed five goals on 18 shots. The offense does not score more than two goals all that often, but it had three. Boston tallied an astounding 50 shots on Tampa netminder Antero Niittymaki, flush with quality chances, and walked away the loser.
“We didn’t have a good start tonight, and the opportunities they had tonight they capitalized on it,” coach Claude Julien said.
That they did.
Rising star Steve Stamkos scored the Lightning’s first goal 49 seconds into the game on a back-door rush and tip on a perfect pass from Steve Downie. Boston surrendered another goal late in the first when Dennis Seidenberg turned the puck over on the wall at mid-ice and Vincent Lecavalier turned it into a rush the other way, sending a pass/shot on Rask that reached the crease the same time as Martin St. Louis. The veteran forward beat Rask to the puck and slid it through for the 2-0 lead, and Tampa was in command.
To a certain extent, there was little Rask could do against four of the five goals Tampa scored. Stamkos had a rocket one-timer on the power play for the fourth goal and Paul Szczechura got in the slot and beat Rask high on the power play for the fifth.
“Yeah, I really don’t blame myself too much with those goals, But I wish I could have had maybe saved a couple to give the team a chance to win,” Rask said. “But that’s what I said, we gave a couple odd-man rushes and they really, really just buried the puck in the net.”
Here is the Hat Trick of lessons from Thursday’s loss.
The Lightning’s top five forwards can rival anybody in the league. St. Louis, Stamkos, Lecavalier, Downie and Ryan Malone (all who would lead the Bruins in scoring this year) have combined for 135 of Tampa’s 194 goals this season. Between Stamkos and St. Louis, the Bruins had their hands full.
That does not excuse their lapses in front of Rask on Thursday. Stamkos’s first goal (on which he was very close to being offsides) was a pretty as a goal can be from the back door, but Stamkos should have never been left alone to rush down the wing in the first place.
“Defensively I didn’t think we were as sharp as we have been, and when you spot the type of players that scored for them and had some opportunities, I think they certainly made the best of it,” Julien said. “Our own fault for not being sharper without the puck.”
Stamkos said that the Lightning had a good game plan coming into the game and were ready to exploit the Bruins defense.
“We just came into the game knowing what to do,” Stamkos said. “They take away the middle of the ice really well, get good back pressure. Our plan was to get pucks wide and get them towards the net and crash the net. We got two kind of beautiful passes and they were backdoor tap-ins.”
Stamkos pretty much ran a clinic on the Bruins for most of the night. He won battles to the puck, was the fastest player on the ice and had the best shot. His second goal was a one-timer from a stand still on the left faceoff circle on a power play that Rask had no chance to see. That type of shot is similar to another great goal scorer in the NHL who makes camp on the circles: Alex Ovechkin.
“He is a goal-scorer, so he found those areas and capitalizes,” Mark Stuart said. “That first play really caught me by surprise, he caught me out of the corner of my eye and he got back there pretty quick and I didn’t expect the puck to get there. I was a little late for that. It was my fault.”
Julien said the team takes the blame for the odd-man situations that led to Lightning scores.
“The first one, again, is an offside goal but it still doesn’t mean there was something we could have done about it, we could have reacted better,” Julien said. “So, you got to blame yourself for those type of things. And again, the outnumbered situations we gave them in the first period, that’s a bad decision as far as not covering up when we’re pinching or making a bad pinch.”
IMPRESSIVE OFFENSIVE DISPLAY WITHOUT THE END RESULT
The 50 shots that the Bruins rained on Niittymaki were the most that the Lightning had ever given up in a game. A lot of the shots were quality scoring opportunities right in front of the net as the Bruins crashed the crease hard, especially while trying to come back in the third period.
Niittymaki deserves all the credit that could come his way, and Stamkos was happy to give it to him.
“[Niittymaki] was unbelievable,” Stamkos said. “He still has to make the save and clear the rebound, so he was definitely a big part of the win today.”
Seidenberg agreed that Niittymaki was good but also thought the goaltender was the beneficiary of some good fortune.
“He was good and lucky I would say," the defenseman said. "There were so many bounces that just hit him. We had tons of chances and tons of rebounds, we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Tampa’s plan to stay out of the middle was two-forked. Try to crack the Boston defense from the half walls and try to keep the puck away from Bruins forwards sticks going the other way. The second half of that equation did not work out quite as well with the shot total the evidence.
“We just wanted to keep the puck out of the middle of the ice, but as the game wore on we got away from that and they were able to transition,” Stamkos said.
In the Bruins' last two wins they had 33 (Atlanta) and 31 (New York) shots, so it is not like the Bruins have not been able to generate offense over the last week. They just could not find a way to pull the pin on the grenade they set up in front of Niitymaki on Thursday.
If Thursday was opposite night, the Bruins “power play” should be renamed the “weak play.” Their streak of scoreless man-advantages has run to 0-for-22 after another 0-for-3 night in a span of eight games.
So, what is the prognosis?
“First of all, there’s times where we’re overhandling the puck and we should be moving it around,” Julien said. “There’s no doubt that right now a lot of guys are second-guessing themselves, and those are our best players on the power play that have to be able to convert.”
Some of the power plays during the streak, the Bruins have not been able to manage a shot on net. Against the Lightning, the registered shots by the handful.
“Yeah, today at least we had a lot of chances and a lot of shots,” Seidenberg said. “We had chances to score and got good looks at the net. The last few games we didn’t do that so at least it’s a positive sign that we got chances and good looks and rebounds off the power play.”
That was the game and, to a certain extent, the season for Boston -- the inability to bury chances.
“Whatever chances we seem to get, we don’t bury. And that’s certainly a big concern right now and it kind of goes hand-in-hand with what’s happened tonight. With all the opportunities we had, we weren’t able to score goals. And again, it makes it tough for us to win hockey games.”