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5 Takeaways: Reckless Ritchie Helps Put Bruins in Series Hole

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Boston Bruins Nick Ritche hit Yanni Gourde

The Boston Bruins are on the brink of elimination after losing Game 4 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning forward Ondrej Palat scored twice; defenseman Victor Hedman added another and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves to put the Lightning up 3-1 in this Eastern Conference Semifinals series.

Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk scored the lone goal for the Bruins on a third period powerplay but it was too little, too late. Jaro Halak stopped 23 of 26 shots for the Bruins. 

Here’s what hopefully isn’t your penultimate BHN Five Takeaways for the Boston Bruins 2019-20 season. 

Boston Bruins Need 2010 Halak ASAP!

Make no mistake, Jaro Halak is a solid goaltender and the best backup in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Halak is now their starter and their backup is a 23-year-old rookie that just got lit up for three goals on 15 shots in the first 29 minutes of his NHL career in the Bruins’ 7-1 loss in Game 3

Fortunately though, and yes, it was ten years ago, Halak has pulled a team out of a 3-1 series deficit. Halak was the sole reason the 2009-10 Montreal Canadiens were able to erase a 3-1 series deficit and beat the heavily favored Washington Capitals in seven games. His epic 53-save performance in Game 6 of that series was one for the ages and right now the Boston Bruins need him to channel the Halak that stole that series and the seven-game series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins he led the Habs to in the next round!

Halak hasn’t been bad but make no doubt, he will tell you he can be better. The Bruins need him to save shots like the one that Palat beat him with for his second goal of the game at 12:29 of the second period to make it 2-0 Lightning. 

“Well I mean it doesn’t help obviously, I mean you’re in a one-goal game and feel you’ve played through some stuff again tonight,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy who also cited the lack of 5-on-5 offense from his team as a reason they’re suddenly facing elimination. “In the first period our guy Kuhlman gets drilled from behind, and we’re going to confront the situation, we’re on the short end of the stick, and we saw what happened on a very similar hit later so there’s a little bit of that going on in this series. And then you know we weren’t able to play through it the other night and tonight we did a much better job. So yeah, we need that save.”

Cassidy Dead Wrong Defending Ritchie

Let’s make one thing clear here before I continue to write: I am so grateful to cover and deal with a head coach like Cassidy. He is honest, insightful, and just an absolute treasure for a reporter! That being said, he’s dead wrong on his assessment of the Nick Ritchie boarding penalty on Yanni Gourde 13:32 into the second period. 

I asked Cassidy after the game if that hit was an example of Ritchie’s continued lack of discipline which he not only showed then but earlier in the game at 17:29 of the first period that thankfully and unlike this bonehead hit didn’t result in a Lightning powerplay goal.

“No, there was no call. He’s finishing a check, it happens all the time.” Cassidy replied. “He played through a player’s shoulder as I saw it. Shoulder to shoulder hard. I don’t know if the explanation was it was late or it was a 225-pound man hits a 170-pound man and that’s why the penalty is called. As I said, I thought Paquette did the same thing if not worse to Kuhlman in the first period. 

The standard is set, that’s what officials do, they set the standard and the players adjust to it and adapt to it game in and game out. So no, I thought he did a good job, that’s what he’s asked to do, be hard on people, stick up for your teammates, go to the net, score dirty goals, make plays off the wall, all those things. So that hit was part of the job description and he did it. They reversed the call and at the end of the day, it went against us. We want ‘Ritch’ to be physical, not reckless, and that’s what we thought it was, but it didn’t work out that way.”

To say that hit was anything but reckless is either being in denial or not watching it carefully. I have a friend, Matt Brown, who ten years ago, went into the boards like Gourde did there, after a late hit and has been paralyzed from the neck down since. Spare me the ‘Gourde was milking it” take, please. The only reason he was able to keep playing is God was watching over him. That was a reckless and dirty hit. The NHL should suspend Ritchie for Game 5. 

Though losing Ritchie for Game 5 wouldn’t hurt the Bruins. He’s been a body, at best.

Vasilevskiy Brilliant But Bruins Offense Dormant

Vasilevskiy once again showed why he’s the defending Vezina Trophy winner and a finalist this year. However, the Bruins 5v5 offense has gone absolutely dormant. Yes, they had 30 shots but how many of those legit scoring chances?

The Bruins haven’t scored an even-strength goal since Brad Marchand tied Game 2 at 16:02 of the third period. The Bruins top line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak hasn’t registered a 5-on-5 point since that goal either. If the Bruins are going to extend this series to six games then they need their offense to come back in a hurry!

“To score goals we have to hit the net more often, force him to make saves, control rebounds,” Cassidy said. “We’re just off-net with too many good chances today. And like I said they got another opportunity to build on their lead with what we feel is a questionable call, they did it, they took advantage of it and that’s what good teams do. So it put us in a bigger hole and we started working our way out of it, but if you’re going to put yourself in a hole you got to score goals to win games and we weren’t able to do that.”

Can Boston Bruins Overcome ‘Enough Is Enough’ Mentality?

When the Bruins pushed the Carolina Hurricanes to the brink of elimination in the first round, colleague Rob Simpson wrote a column about how much more difficult it is for NHL teams facing elimination to come back in the NHL bubble, let alone stave off an exit from the new world teams find themselves in. So far, only one team facing elimination has won the next game but none have come back to win a series. Given the circumstances, it seems as if when teams get to this point, they simply say ‘Enough is enough’ and mail it in.

“It makes it harder to dig yourself out of the hole,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the Bruins won Game 4 of that series. 

Following the Bruins’ loss in Game 4 Saturday, Charlie Coyle addressed that unique dynamic and what the Bruins need to do to overcome what’s clearly an even bigger challenge in the bubble. 

“It’s all a mentality,” Coyle said. “As ‘Krech’ [David Krejci] said, we have to regroup and focus on one game at a time. People have been in worse situations and come out on top. We just have to take it this one, one game at a time. Focus on that next game. That is all we can control right now. Come back and the mindset is to play a better game. There are some things we can work on and look at, some video. But just the mindset to focus on that next one and get a win.”

Cassidy Shuffles Boston Bruins Lineup

After the seven defensemen experiment failed miserably in Game 3, Cassidy went back to the normal six on the blue line and 12 up front. That meant defenseman Connor Clifton and forward Karson Kuhlman drew back in for Game 4. Clifton finished with three hits in 14:29 and 22 shifts while Kuhlman had three shots and two hits in 12:26 and 16 shifts. Here’s what the Boston Bruins roster looked like for Game 4:

With 20 years of experience (SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, ESPNBoston, NESN, NHL.com, etc.) covering the Bruins, the NHL, NCAA and junior hockey and more, Jimmy Murphy’s hockey black book is full of Hall of Famers, current players, coaches, management, scouts and a wide array of hockey media personalities that have lived in and around this great game. For 17 of his 20 years as a hockey and sports reporter, Murph covered the Bruins on essentially a daily basis covering their victorious 2011 Stanley Cup run and their 2013 run to the Final as well. Murphy has hosted national and local radio shows and podcasts and also has experience in TV as well.

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