Did the Bruins give it their best shot in the Toronto bubble?

Less than an hour after Tampa Bay ended Boston’s season with a 3-2 double-overtime win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference second round Monday, Brad Marchand said he thought the Bruins did all they could do to try to back up their Presidents’ Trophy regular season with a deep postseason run.

“You know we prepared, we worked and you know these things have to work out perfect to win,” said the left wing, who co-led the Bruins with David Krejci with 12 points in 13 playoff games. “The team that wins, that’s how it goes, everything needs to go your way. You need the calls, the bounces, everyone needs to play their best all the way through. And you know it’s tough to look back and say ‘what if?’ I mean like I said before, we only have so many kicks at the can and everyone, I think especially when we retire, I think that’s more when it’s going to hit us.”

That regret is going to hit Marchand and the Bruins much sooner if they look at the video of their Game 5 loss, especially the two overtime periods, and compare those performances to what they did in all the periods prior. The 34:10 of extra time until Victor Hedman clinched the series for the Lightning featured the Bruins’ best all-around play of the late-summer tournament, and maybe were the only stretches of the game that they played at the playoff level normally reserved for April and May.

The Bruins wound up being outshot in the overtimes 14-12, started the first overtime with a 6-0 shots advantage. Goalie Jaroslav Halak was stopping even the shots he couldn’t see. Despite exhaustion setting in, the Bruins were bringing physicality and were getting in Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s face. The defense was pinching down the walls and even joining the attack down low because the forwards were picking them up, creating the layers that have made the Bruins an elite team the past couple seasons.

By all accounts, they deserved to win this game. Vasilevskiy, though, was one save better. Hedman was rewarded for his electric efforts throughout the series. The highly talented Lightning were seemingly due to get back to the conference final for the second time in three seasons.

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But this could’ve been a different season had the Bruins been able to put forth their Game 5 effort earlier in the series. Nowhere did that show up more than in 5-on-5 scoring, an advantage for the Lightning 14-5. The Bruins went 179:05 from Game 2 through Game 5 without scoring at even strength before Krejci’s game-tying goal with 2:33 left in regulation Monday. Throughout the series, the Bruins leaned too much on their first line and their power play. Their defense was tentative about chipping in. Coach Bruce Cassidy waited too long to shake up his lines to throw a different look at the Lightning. David Pastrnak finally got moved to Krejci’s line and it worked. Karson Kuhlman had a couple of chances to end the game while playing with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

The Bruins almost never made the Lightning play the Boston brand of hockey, and it cost them. The Lightning, with their ridiculous skill and new-found grit, played a huge part in that. But we’ve gotten used to seeing the Bruins take teams out of their comfort zones for at least long periods of the action since the start of the 2018-19 season. The Bruins weren’t able to do that this time around.

The roots of Boston’s shortcomings will be debated in the months ahead. Tuukka Rask’s situation was clearly a distraction and a disappointment to the Bruins. But it also didn’t help that Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase broke protocol and had to serve extra quarantine time during the mini-training camp. The Bruins never had their full squad for practices.

Then the Bruins got cocky and treated the robin-robin games like exhibition games. They thought they’d be able to flip the switch to playoff intensity, and they dialed it up to about eight but never got to 10 until it came down to a coin flip in overtime of Game 5 against the Lightning.

Whatever it was, the Bruins never hit their playoff stride, and the players and coaches will recognize that when they compare their performances from the first four games of the second round to the fifth game. Marchand’s right, you have to get the bounces to win, and the Bruins didn’t get enough of them in Game 5. However, there’s a level of execution and desire that also has to be met. The Bruins weren’t able to find those elements in time to prevent a much earlier exit from the postseason than many expected.

 

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