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Cup Final Game 4 Lessons for Bolts

June 6, 2019, 9:06 AM ET [1 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
In the goals against category, the Blues and Bruins rank in the top five for the regular season and postseason (among teams playing a minimum of ten postseason games). To score against these teams’ unyielding defenses, the enemy must permeate multiple layers. They need to be able to escape the clutches of the forward transition defense, evade the mobile, skulking defensive group, and fling the puck past impregnable goaltenders. The Blues and Bruins’ skaters are physical and Jordan Binnington and Tuukka Rask are disciplined in their movements. Since so little is surrendered, the goals scored have significance. What is remarkable is the shared characteristics of these goals. The Blues and Bruins are scoring in similar ways.

The Blues were up 1-0 in the first period of Game 4, but the Bruins had the puck. A failed pass by Zach Sanford through the middle of the ice led to a Bruins’ neutral-zone regroup. Charlie McAvoy passed it left to Zdeno Chara, and then Chara sailed the puck up the boards to Drew Heinen for the entry as the Blues changed a few players. It was significant that Heinen, who was alone with Colton Parayko, bought a few seconds of time despite being the only Bruins player in the offensive zone.

Heinen charged at Parayko and then did a little U-turn before firing the puck on his backhand into the middle. While the pass to Charlie Coyle failed, Chara still snagged the loose puck and sprinted down toward the corner. Simultaneously, Coyle had crept below the goal line and popped out right as Chara was firing the puck on net. Coyle got a piece of the Chara shot, making it hard for Binnington to have good rebound control, and Coyle pounced on the rebound and stuffed it far post.

Heinen is a depth forward, yet he had the skill and resourcefulness to allow his teammates to create a scoring chance. He demonstrated patience with the puck, and was unafraid to challenge Parayko and take the ensuing hit. Also, credit to Chara who recognized the lane down the perimeter and identified an opportunity if Coyle could step off the goal line. Chara needed to put the puck on net, but his shot also needed to be in an area where Coyle could possibly deflect it and also convert on the follow-up chance.

One important component that has not been mentioned yet is Heinen and Chara’s accidental drop pass above the circles, which forced Jaden Schwartz to cover Coyle, rather than a Blues defenseman, below the goal line. Parayko was busy chasing Chara, and Jay Bouwmeester had his hands in Marcus Johansson’s face on the backdoor. In this one-on-one matchup, Coyle had a size advantage, and Schwartz was delayed in his rotation because he was puck-watching Chara.

The Bruins would exhibit these traits again later in the contest. With the score 2-1 Blues and St. Louis on a power play, the puck was headmanned to Brad Marchand. Marchand struggled to control the puck, but he also knew he had a cushion. He was going against the 22-year-old sophomore Vince Dunn, and instead of barreling ahead and chucking the puck deep, Marchand stemmed the momentum of the puck, preventing it from crossing the blue line, avoiding the entry.

This was a brilliant move because if Marchand had crossed the puck into the offensive zone, it would have been a one-on-three against the Blues skaters who sprinted back. Marchand would easily have been foiled. But by buying a second and a half in the neutral zone, he gained support when he moved the puck over the blue line since Patrice Bergeron had dove toward the inside track beneath Ryan O’Reilly, and Marchand slipped the puck to him. Bergeron, never one to delay, quickly delivered the puck onto Binnington’s far pad, and Brandon Carlo was there on the weak side to whack the puck into the net.

This was genius all the way around. From Marchand halting the puck and waiting for support, to Bergeron neglecting to challenge Vladimir Tarasenko on the two-on-one and instead shooting the puck in an area where his teammate could swat in the rebound.

But the Blues excel in a similar way. On the Tarasenko goal, Brayden Schenn drew the attention of three Bruins players before he dropped a pass on Alex Pietrangelo’s stick as he swooped in as the trailer. Pietrangelo wisely fired the puck on net far pad, and Tarasenko was in position to chop the puck into the net.

This would not be the last time the Blues struck because their initial shot unlocked a shot closer to the net. The two best teams understand that, against strong goaltending and superb defense, the best way to score is by putting the puck in an area that will force a rebound.

On the game-winning goal, the Bruins were engaging in a line change when Pietrangelo swept into the offensive zone and cranked a shot on Rask. It was a shrewd play because it created a rebound chance for O’Reilly, who was powering toward the net and wormed his way into the space between Heinen and McAvoy.

For three straight rounds, the Bruins and Blues have been the better teams at boxing out opponents in the middle to low slot. Which is why plays like this are significant. The Bruins had three skaters at the dots or lower, yet despite the Blues only having O’Reilly and David Perron occupying the same area, it was O’Reilly who got into position to make a play on the rebound. With Rask vacuuming up shots and playing at such a high level, the game-winning goal showcased the Blues’ penchant for maximizing opportunities when they are presented with them.

These four goals are notable because the Lightning blatantly failed to apply these lessons against Columbus. They almost always shot with the intention of beating the goaltender cleanly. Even when there was a rebound, the Lightning skaters were too easily boxed out. Tampa Bay failed miserably to show patience with the puck in terms of playmaking, which can be attributed both to the player with the puck and the support off the puck. They never attacked off the goal line or struck from the off-slot. The Lightning approached the postseason believing they could create chances at will. They were wrong. The playoffs are a different animal, one that requires a less picky mindset. If they didn’t know, now they know.
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