May 13, 2013, was much referenced during the Bruins-Leafs series as the date the Bruins stormed back with an unprecedented four goals en route to and overtime win in Game 7.
Over the next two weeks against the Tampa Bay Lightning, we’ll reference May 2011 – especially May 27. That would be the night many puck pundits recollect one of the best playoff games in Bruins history was played: a no-penalty, 60-minute gem won by Tim Thomas and Nathan Horton, 1-0, in Game 7 to put Boston into the Stanley Cup Final. We know the rest of that season’s outcome.
If the Black and Gold play a comparable series in Round 2 to the one just completed against the Leafs, their road to another Cup will be seriously challenged.
Here are five things the Bruins must do to get past the talented Lightning.
Tuukka Rask needs to step up.
As Tuukka Rask goes, so go the Bruins. That was a rocky road in Round 1 against Toronto. While Anton Khudobin played mop-up when Rask was pulled in Game 5, don’t expect to see much of the B’s backup in any upcoming games – those were Khudobin’s first-ever NHL playoff minutes.
“At the end of the day he found his game, ” Bruce Cassidy said about his goaltender after the Game 7 win. “We picked each other up, and off we went.”
Cassidy and management — not to mention Bruins followers — would like Rask to find his game a bit sooner against Tampa and outduel Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy.
They need to win one of the first two games.
It’s hard to figure on the Bruins advancing if they return to TD Garden for Games 3 and 4 down 2-0. That means they’d need to win four of five.
Boston won the regular-season series, 3-1, splitting the two in Tampa. They need to replicate that road record in Games 1 and 2.
With the Lightning not having played in a week and the Bruins fresh off their comeback win over Toronto Wednesday, there might be enough Tampa rust for Boston to get up quickly and get out of Saturday’s game with a W.
They can’t chase
One of Cassidy’s signature phrases all season and too many games against Toronto was: “We can’t chase the game.”
The Bruins chased many a game during the regular season in come-from-behind wins. In Game 7 Wednesday, they became the first team in NHL history to come from three one-goal deficits to win a playoff game.
“We’re fortunate that our best effort was put forth in the third period,” general manager Don Sweeney said during his Thursday press conference at Warrior Ice Arena, “and we’re moving on.”
Surely, Sweeney knows that unless his team plays three periods of their best effort each game, they will be moving out of the postseason.
The Bergeron line must match the Stamkos trio.
Yes, the Bruins need to keep an upper edge in special teams play, blocked shots and faceoffs. But the key stat may well come down to first-line play.
While the Bruins rely often on offensive production from Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak with a combined plus in the plus-minus stat, the Lighting also have a bona fide top trio in J.T. Miller, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Playing that threesome at least even on the final plus-minus stat each game is a must for Boston.
Rick Nash has to become a game-changer.
One important sub-plot of Round 2 is Sweeney giving up three players and a first-round draft pick to the Rangers for Rick Nash at the trade deadline to be a difference-maker in the postseason. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman got defenseman Ryan McDonagh, also from the Broadway Blueshirts, in what most consider the better acquisition of the two.
If there is a pinnacle in the career of the 33-year-old Nash, it’s the month of May – and perhaps June. In seven playoff games in Boston, Nash has one goal and one assist, no power-play points on 24 total shots and a minus-4.
The 2002 first overall pick had a four points and five points respectively in his last two playoff seasons on Broadway.
“I think there’s been times when Rick has been a big catalyst for our club,” Sweeney said.
It’s time for Nash to be a big catalyst in each game against Tampa.