With the Boston Bruins facing elimination against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Torey Krug thinks back to the 2019 playoffs to find a recipe for success.
The Bruins went into Game 6 at the Toronto Maple Leafs on the brink of getting knocked out in the first round, gave up the first goal 10 minutes in. They trailed for 1:41 before tying the score, took the lead by the end of the first period and won the game and the series.
“We got back to what we do best,” Krug said.
The pressure is on for the NHL’s best team during the truncated regular season, trailing Tampa Bay 3-1 going into Game 5 of the second-round series Monday night (7 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network). And they’re not the only team looking to avoid elimination: the Colorado Avalanche are down 3-1 to the Dallas Stars with Game 5 (9:45 p.m., NBCSN) coming on the second half of a back-to-back.
The Bruins got some time to think about their predicament. Much like Game 6 against Toronto last year - in the same arena they’re playing in now - they’re counting on their best players to lead the way.
“You need your core guys. I believe they’ll lead us,” coach Bruce Cassidy said Sunday. “Core lead the way, support guys follow. Leaders and followers. That’s typically how we’ve been good.”
Tampa Bay has just been better. The Lightning have five players with multiple goals in the series, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has stopped 102 of 110 shots and their team game is clicking.
Outside of first-line left winger Brad Marchand’s four goals, Boston has gotten a total of four goals from four other players in the series, and one belongs to Nick Ritchie, whose status is questionable. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has allowed 13 goals on 119 shots, and without the practice time to make necessary adjustments, needs some more help from his teammates in front of him.
That’s where the Bruins’ team defense that got them to the Stanley Cup Final last year needs to come through. Halak has allowed a few soft goals, but also been on the wrong side of bad bounces and high-quality chances.
“We need to help Jaro out with the quality of shots we’re giving him,” Cassidy said. “Hopefully through the course of that game, he gets better at his areas of technique without stressing him too much and I think we’ve put too much stress on him and that’s part of the issue we need to correct.”
Boston doesn’t lack the talent to mount a comeback attempt. The so-called “Perfection Line” of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is among the best offensive trios in hockey, and the Bruins can get offense from David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle up front and Krug and Charlie McAvoy on defense.
They just haven’t so far. While the Lightning’s third line has produced, Boston’s secondary scoring has been nonexistent.
“We can’t just rely on one line or a power play to get us going,” Krug said. “This time of year, it’s depth scoring and playing completely as a team. 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.”
Tampa Bay would like to end this series as soon as possible. While Pastrnak and Krug said the Bruins are trying to flip the script on comebacks being hard to come by in the NHL playoff bubbles, the Lightning would love to follow a familiar path to the Eastern Conference final and also have previous experience to draw from.
That was 2018 against Boston. The Bruins won Game 1 before the Lightning swept the next four to move on.
“When you’ve been a part of, say, 2018 or even a couple weeks ago playing Columbus, you have to draw back on those feelings: what it takes to win these games,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Because the farther you go in the playoffs and especially a team like the Boston Bruins, who seem to find their way deep into the playoffs on multiple occasions, they’re not going to go quietly into the night. You have to make them go.”
The Bruins won’t have injured depth forward Chris Wagner as they try to avoid going home, but they still look like a team with a punch or two left.
“That’s where hockey gets beautiful,” Pastrnak said. “This is the time why we play hockey, right? Playoff hockey is unbelievable, and (Monday) we have to be there and know that we have to show up and be at our best. To be honest, personally, I love it. I’m really excited for (Game 5) and can’t wait for puck drop.”
Out West in the Edmonton bubble, puck drop for Colorado and Dallas comes less than 24 hours after the Stars won Game 4 to push the Avalanche to the edge.
“We’ve got to shake it off,” said Colorado MVP finalist Nathan MacKinnon, who said his team played well enough to win. “The series isn’t over. We’re going to be ready for Game 5.”
Jared Bednar said injured forwards Joonas Donskoi and Matt Calvert, defenseman Erik Johnson and goaltender Philipp Grubauer aren’t ready to return. After pulling Pavel Francouz for allowing five goals Sunday, Bednar wasn’t ready to pick a starter between the Czech veteran and journeyman Michael Hutchinson, who stopped three shots in relief in his NHL playoff debut.
If it’s Francouz again, Bednar said: “Hes’ got to be better for sure. We’ve seen Franky be way better.”
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