The Bruins appeared to be on their way to another easy win over the Rangers Saturday after dominating the first two periods and taking a 2-1 lead on the opening shift of the third.
Then the wheels came flying off in spectacular fashion. One defensive breakdown after another led to four third-period goals from the Rangers, all on point-blank chances and all with far too much open space to get shots off.
The Bruins scored two more goals of their own in the third to keep things interesting, but couldn’t find a tying goal late and suffered an ugly 5-4 loss that wasn’t at all what you want to see this late in the regular season.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Ugly third for all involved
There is probably going to be quite a bit of talk about Tuukka Rask after this one. That tends to happen when a goalie gives up four goals in the third period.
Rask wasn’t great by any means, but there was plenty of blame to go around, and a lot more of it should fall on the team in front of him.
None of the four goals were soft goals. A couple could’ve been stopped with a nice save to bail out his teammates, but the bigger problem was that his teammates required bailing out that many times in one period in the first place.
Some of the breakdowns came from players you just don’t expect it from. The Mike Reilly-Brandon Carlo D pair had looked really good for most of their three games together, but then both were on the ice for two goals against in the third Saturday, and Reilly committed a turnover that led to a third goal while he was paired with Kevan Miller
On the Rangers’ second of the game, both Reilly and Carlo ended up too low in their zone. As a result, Reilly couldn’t pressure Pavel Buchnevich in the slot, and then Carlo couldn’t take away the shot from Mika Zibanejad.
The Bruins’ top line, usually so sound at both ends of the ice, was largely at fault on the Rangers’ third goal, as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak all got caught up ice, leading to an odd-man rush and an Alexis Lafrieniere goal.
Bruce Cassidy has talked about the importance of playing the right way going into the playoffs, regardless of results. Well, that third period was anything but the right way. The Bruins now have two more regular-season games to clean things up and make sure they get back to playing the kind of team defense they’re capable of.
As far as Rask goes, some may now want to make the case for Jeremy Swayman to be the playoff starter over Rask, but it doesn’t seem the Bruins are going down that road themselves. Cassidy made it clear before Saturday’s game that Rask is the No. 1, and one bad period -- and again, one that was worse for his teammates than him -- wouldn’t seem to change that.
2. Missed opportunity in the standings
The Bruins had plenty of missed opportunities on the ice Saturday, and they also had a big one in the standings.
With the Capitals losing to the Flyers Friday night, the door was open for the Bruins to make a real push for home ice at least for the first round. Saturday’s loss to the Rangers really put a damper on that.
The Penguins beat the Sabres Saturday afternoon, meaning the Bruins definitely can’t finish first now. If the Capitals bounce back and beat the Flyers Saturday night, they won’t be able to catch the Capitals for second either (Washington could still catch Pittsburgh for first, by the way), as Washington holds the tiebreaker over Boston. (UPDATE: The Capitals beat the Flyers in overtime, meaning the Bruins can now finish no higher than third.)
The Bruins could also still finish fourth if they lose their last two games and the Islanders win their last two (and the Bruins and Islanders play each other Monday night).
Home ice won’t be quite as important as usual this year without full buildings, but you would definitely still prefer to have it. Even 25% capacity can make a difference, and last change tends to be more important in the playoffs if you're trying to get certain matchups.
3. Nick Ritchie wins 7th Player Award, sets career high in goals
Remember when many of us questioned whether Nick Ritchie even deserved to be on the Bruins’ opening night roster?
It was understandable at the time given that Ritchie was coming off a disastrous 2020 postseason, but it seems crazy now given how good of a season he’s had.
Ritchie set a new career high with his 15th goal Saturday, and it came from a spot where a lot of his goals come from -- standing right on the edge of the crease.
Ritchie collected a rebound off a Charlie McAvoy shot that went wide (possibly intentionally) and popped out to him off the end boards, then banged it past Rangers goalie Keith Kinkaid before Kinkaid could get set.
Earlier in the game, Ritchie had been announced as the winner of this year’s NESN 7th Player Award as the player who most exceeded expectations this season as voted on by Bruins fans. It’s hard to argue with the choice given the 180 from last summer to now.
While Ritchie’s goal was an encouraging development for the third line of him, Sean Kuraly and Jake DeBrusk, that trio being on the ice for two of the Rangers’ third-period goals was not.