After a brief pause, the Stanley Cup playoffs return to action with three games on Saturday. The first is a pivotal Game 4 between two title favorites, as the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to extend their series lead while the Boston Bruins are fighting to even things up.
Here is a preview for this afternoon’s contest and a series recap and a free pick. As of writing, Tampa Bay is a slight -115 favorite to win Game 4.
In the first game of this series, Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak was the standout, making 35 saves as Boston held on for a 3-2 win. The Bruins were up 3-0 after getting a first-period score from C Charlie Coyle, a power-play tally from RW David Pastrnak in the second, and an insurance goal from LW Brad Marchand in the first 80 seconds of the third period.
But Tampa Bay made it interesting thanks to a pair of goals from D Victor Hedman, his second coming with 1:14 left in regulation. The Lightning also out-shot the Bruin’s by six but were shut out on the power play.
In the wild, back-and-forth Game 2, the Bolts would get the last laugh. LW Ondrej Palat buried the overtime winner to give Tampa a 4-3 win and a series tied at one win a piece. Each team scored a goal in the first three periods of the game, with the Lightning getting a pair of goals from LW Blake Coleman and another score from last year’s Hart Trophy winner RW Nikita Kucherov.
The Bruins meanwhile got another pair of goals from Marchand, including the game-tying score with about four minutes left in regulation, plus the first of the playoffs for LW Nick Ritchie. Tampa Bay dominated the shot battle 40-25, forcing Halak to make 36 saves, while Andrei Vasilevskiy had 22 saves in the win.
After two close games, a huge second period in Game 3 catapulted the Lightning to a massive 7-1 win, and a series lead. After being shut out for the first two games, Tampa Bay’s power play came back to life thanks to goals from Palat, D Mikhail Sergachev, and RW Alex Killorn, who also added an even-strength goal later on.
RW Yanni Gourde, C Brayden Point, and Kucherov all added goals in a dominating effort that wound up chasing Halak out of the game during the second period. Marchand scored the lone goal for Boston, his fourth of the series and seventh in the postseason.
Keys to Victory
Tampa Bay will win if the power play is back for good. Game 3’s three-for-six showing with the extra attacker was impressive, but largely an aberration from what we’ve seen during the postseason. Before the game, the Lightning had failed to convert on their last 17 power-play opportunities.
As a result, they found themselves in an early hole to begin this series and needed overtime to win Game 2, despite being the much better team at even strength in both. If the power play unit has found a way out of their slump, this immediately puts the Bolts in the driver’s seat.
Boston will win if their depth scorers come through. During the series recap, you may have noticed a lot of the same names mentioned for who was providing Boston’s offense. Marchand, Pastrnak, and Coyle have all looked good this series, but in reality, it will take more than them to even up the series.
The lack of scoring from middle-six forwards like LW Jake DeBrusk, C David Krejci, and RW Ondrej Kase has hurt the Bruins thus far, particularly during five-on-five play. The first line can’t do everything for Boston, so the other scorers will need to find a way to put pucks on the net and generate offense.
This game is close to a pick’em, with a lot to like about each club. Despite allowing seven goals in Game 3, Boston is a strong defensive team that has also been steady on the power play with a goal in each of the first three matchups. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is deep and high-scoring, especially when their special teams are working.
To me, this comes to what’s more likely; the Bruins getting some more production from their other forwards or the Lightning dominating on the power play. I’m going with the former, as I believe Boston is suited to shake off their bad performance and get a win when they desperately need it.
I’m picking the Bruin’s to even up the series today in Toronto.
Pick: Bruins -105