Five Thoughts: The strange twists and turns of Game 5 between Boston and Tampa Bay

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Two games in a row between Boston and Tampa Bay we’ve seen one team dominate the first period of play only to get the script flipped on them and the game taken in the other direction. It happened to Boston in Game 4 and Tampa Bay last night in Game 5. With the Bruins overcoming the Lightning in Game 5 to earn a tough win, they’re in control of the series but they’ll need to stay strong to resist Tampa Bay in Game 6 in order to prevent a Game 7.

1. After such a one-sided first period that saw Tampa Bay control the play and pepper Tim Thomas with 14 shots, as opposed to four Boston shots, it looked like Thomas was going to have to break out an otherworldly kind of performance in order to help the Bruins to victory. While the pace of the game swung in Boston’s favor over the final two periods, Thomas still had to be sharp when Tampa Bay got their chances and he did so with aplomb. It’s amazing what a team can pull off when they’ve got a goaltender playing above and beyond the call of duty to help you win. The Bruins rally in the second period can be singled out on how well Thomas held it together in the first. While the Bruins have had their ups and downs, Thomas has been as steady as ever.

2. Speaking of goaltending, it appeared that Guy Boucher put himself in a hole after Mike Smith’s incredible play in Game 5. After all, you couldn’t hang the loss on Smith’s play as he allowed two goals in 19 shots leading many to believe there might be a goalie controversy heading into Game 6. Boucher put all that talk to a stop today by saying Dwayne Roloson would start Game 6.

What we won’t stop talking about here is what kept Roloson from starting Game 5. After all, Roloson was the guy who got the Lightning to the playoffs and held strong for them through the first two rounds of the playoffs, why change that up? We’ll have our own theories all the while but you have to wonder if Roloson at age 41 just maybe needed a night off. There’s some speculating that perhaps Roloson is banged up and others saying that Roloson needed a break after putting up some subpar performances in this series. If it’s an injury we’ll find out about it when Tampa Bay’s playoff run is over. If it’s not… We’ll have even more questions for Guy Boucher.

3. One guy for Boston that’s doing nothing to dispel the talk about his lack of importance is Tomas Kaberle. While Kaberle showed some signs of doing things positively (blocking shots for instance) that’s not the total role he’s there to play for the Bruins. He’s there to generate offense and lead the power play and he’s doing neither of those things, leading to some people wondering if he should be benched.

In Game 5 he had just 13:06 of ice time and 3:43 of that was spent on the power play. The 9:23 of even strength time he had was the fewest amongst Bruins defensemen by a lot and towards the end of the game Claude Julien shortened his defensive bench up excluding Kaberle from situations and opting to double up the minutes for Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference.

In a time when the Bruins were hanging on to a one goal lead that makes some sense, but considering how important Kaberle was meant to be to this Bruins team, it’s a huge disappointment to see him being buried as essentially the team’s sixth defenseman. With Kaberle set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, his marketability is shrinking dramatically in these playoffs.

4. It’s a fascinating study to see what’s going on with Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie just in this series alone. We’ve seen him wrongly get busted for diving in Game 4 and last night we saw him get questionably called for boarding Johnny Boychuk while an obvious trip by Andrew Ference on Downie went uncalled late in the game. We understand that as a player’s career goes on they can earn a bad reputation and not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to penalties, but Downie this season has been a bit of a different player.

He’s not as abrasive as Sean Avery can be and he’s not the cheap shot artist the way Matt Cooke can be, he’s able to play with an edge and be productive as well. He’s sort of a modern day Pat Verbeek in that way but with the way he acted out early in his career in Philadelphia, he’s not getting any of the breaks. It can be tough to see from a Tampa perspective because when Downie is wronged, there’s no sympathy for him because of past aggressions. That doesn’t make it right that he’s still apparently judged by them.

5. One thing that we never counted on seeing this year is how Tampa Bay would be counting on Marc-Andre Bergeron in all their big offensive need situations. Whether it’s on the power play or late in the game with an extra attacker, Bergeron is being counted upon heavily by Guy Boucher. We know that Guy Boucher has some familiarity with Bergeron previously in his days with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but Bergeron’s been a bit of an NHL nomad existing with a big shot from the blue line and the ability to help produce on the power play. That said, seeing him on the ice in a dire situation with an empty net behind him and the desperate need to get another goal is tough to watch.

Tampa Bay doesn’t exactly have a big offensive producer on the blue line so the job basically falls to Bergeron but as we’ve seen from him in the past he’s got a penchant for turnovers. Seeing him give up the puck that led to Boston’s empty net goal to ice the game wasn’t exactly a shock. If there’s a hole in Tampa’s game it’s that they don’t have that big offensive threat on defense. Perhaps it’d be a bit different if Pavel Kubina were healthy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.