The Tampa Bay Lightning know exactly what they’re going to get when they try to eliminate the Boston Bruins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; CBC, SN, TVAS).
“You get everybody’s best shot in elimination games,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Sunday. “I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s all about the start.”
For Boston, it not only about the start, it’s about finding offense where there hasn’t been any.
“Core, lead the way,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Support guys, follow. Leaders and followers. That’s typically how we’ve been good, and it won’t change tomorrow.”
He added, “I think our core will. They have to. Your best players need to be your best players.”
That starts with the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. That’s the line that usually leads the Bruins’ offense, which has vanished in the past two games, a 7-1 loss in Game 3 and a 3-1 loss in Game 4.
The Lightning have found scoring up and down the lineup, with seven goal-scorers in their past two wins.
“We have to match that,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said. “We can’t just rely on one line or a power play to get us going. This time of year it’s depth scoring and playing completely as a team. [Jake DeBrusk] is right. We haven’t played up to our level. We have to get there fast, otherwise it’s going to end before we want it to.”
There are more concrete things the Bruins can do. They need to get more pucks through the Lightning defense and on goalie Andrei Vasilevsky. They need to defend better, especially against the line of Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, which has scored 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in the series. They need to be better at the start of games, not allowing the Lightning to settle in and be off to the races.
“Formula sounds basic, but it’s what you need to do right now,” Cassidy said. “How we get there is what we have to discuss, the things that go into that. At the end of the day, it’s focus on the first period of the next game and not worry about what’s ahead of that.”
But if that doesn’t happen, there are ways to come back. Krug recalled Game 6 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, and the resilience showed by a team which had, at that point, made the Stanley Cup Final twice in the core’s tenure, winning in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks and losing in six games in 2013 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Against the Maple Leafs last season, the Bruins were facing elimination in Game 6, and the Maple Leafs scored first.
The Bruins bounced back, ultimately winning the game and the series, making it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to the St. Louis Blues.
“We ended up just going out there the second half of that first period and taking over the game,” Krug said. “It’s because we got back to what we do best. … It’s sticking to our guns, doing what made us the best team in the NHL this year for a reason. And if we can’t win, then we have to live with that.”
Which is why Cooper and the Lightning know Game 5 will not be easy. The Bruins came into the playoffs saying they were playing with “unfinished business” from winning the Presidents’ Trophy this season and from their loss in the Final last season.
With a win, Tampa Bay would advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the fifth time since 2011.
“A team like the Bruins, who seem to find their way deep into the playoffs on multiple occasions, they’re not going to go quietly into the night,” Cooper said. “You have to make them go.”