The Boston Bruins' bubble has been popped.
After finishing the (shortened) regular season as Presidents' Trophy winners, the Bruins' playoff run lasted only two rounds. Boston was sent packing by the Tampa Bay Lightning in just five games and, as a result, the Lightning will move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in six years while the East is guaranteed to have a new representative in this year's Stanley Cup Final.
So, what went wrong for Boston, the league's best team during the regular season? Let's take a look.
Lack of 5v5 offense
You have to start with the lack of production at 5v5 in this series. It's not a huge shock that the Bruins were outscored by the Lightning, as Tampa finished the regular season with the league's top offensive unit, but it is a bit surprising how big the disparity was. Through the five games, Boston was outscored 5-14 at 5v5.
Yes, just five goals in five games.
Granted, the series wasn't quite as lopsided as those numbers (or the 4-1 gentleman's sweep) would suggest, but there's no question that the Bruins' offense was thoroughly disappointing in this series. That's especially true with regards to generating sustained pressure in high-danger areas and taking away Andrei Vasilevskiy's eyes. Tampa held a 54-36 advantage in high-danger chances through the series.
Boston's power play, which is one of the top man-advantage units in the league, did well to take advantage of its opportunities and contributed five additional goals in the series. But it's probably not a great sign when your power play is accounting for 50 percent of your offense over the course of a seven-game series.
Sloppy defensive play
Tampa frequently worked low-to-high and successfully generated offensive from the point thanks to their ability to win battles in front of the net. They brought pressure straight into Jaroslav Halak's kitchen and did a great job of creating a mess of traffic in front of the net, leading to a number of deflection goals and clean-up opportunities in close proximity.
Overall, it was a rough series for Boston's defensive corps. That group had too many breakdowns, lapses in coverage and sloppy turnovers that afforded extra opportunities to a dangerous offensive team that will make you pay more often than not.
If this was the last we saw of Torey Krug in a Bruins uniform (he's a UFA this offseason), then it wasn't a particularly great final impression. He was on the ice for two Bruins goals at 5v5, seven goals against... none more embarrassing than this one.
The Bruins are very much a team that will go as far as their elite top line takes them, but their forward depth was always a point of concern this season. That came back to haunt them against Tampa.
The Lightning have as good a top nine as you'll find in hockey and they used every bit of it to overpower Boston in this series. Their shutdown checking line of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman did an outstanding job of not only neutralizing top competition, but creating chances offensively. Check out their numbers at 5v5, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:
- Gourde: 53.9 percent of attempts, 6 goals for, 1 against
- Coleman: 50.7 percent of attempts, 4 goals for, 0 against
- Goodrow: 47.2 percent of attempts, 4 goals for, 0 against
Whenever you're looking for a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, a great third line is often a make-or-break point of reference. Brayden Point's line found a ton of opportunity away from Patrice Bergeron's unit, specifically against David Krejci's line. Not only did Krejci (who looked incredible for the Bruins in the first round) find limited success, he was essentially run over.
It didn't help that the Bruins lost a significant bottom-six contributor in Sean Kuraly during this series, but they were playing from behind to begin with -- and that's against a Lightning team that didn't even have Steven Stamkos.
This series may have been won at the NHL trade deadline all the way back in February. The Lightning were aggressive in getting pieces that they felt may put them over the top (specifically Coleman and Goodrow) and those acquisitions have ultimately elevated them to a new level. Meanwhile, the Bruins knew that their depth and secondary contributions were a point of concern, but they chose to address that need by going out and getting Ondrej Kase (0 points in this series) and Nick Ritchie (arguably the Bruins' worst player).
Okay, we need to talk about it: The Tuukka Rask effect.
The Bruins came into this series without their No. 1 goaltender in Rask, who elected to opt out in the middle of the first round due to an undisclosed family emergency. It's fair to say he had every right to do so-- obviously. It's also fair to say his absence hurt the Bruins.
It's hard to say that goaltending was the reason the Bruins lost this series -- again, they scored five goals at even strength and just looked like the worse team -- but it was part of the reason. Halak stood on his head with an incredible performance in the finale, but outside of that he looked thoroughly mediocre in the series. In the end, he finished the five games with a cumulative .896 save percentage and failed to come up with some makeable saves when the Bruins needed them.
On the other side, Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid for pretty much the entire series.
Overall, not the best series for Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. His lineup decisions were questionable, especially when it came to sticking with an obviously ineffective Ritchie through four games. Eventually, Ritchie was pulled out of the lineup in Game 5 and the Bruins looked a whole lot better with Jack Studnicka and Anders Bjork on Charlie Coyle's wing, but by then it was too late.
Cassidy clearly had faith in his guys to figure it out, but his reluctance to make adjustments on the fly resulted in a pretty linear storyline for the Bruins in this series. On top of that, he made himself look... not great... when he defended Ritchie following an obviously bad (and costly) hit in Game 4.
He's a good coach who earned his place among Jack Adams finalists this year but these past five games weren't his finest work.