Columnists, Hockey, Sports

Off the Post: The bigger the lead, the bigger the problem for the Bruins

An old hockey theory is that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous kind for a team to have, in lieu of a greater advantage. Players are often caught between being aggressive on both offense and defense. However, this season’s Boston Bruins have found that larger leads can also be difficult to manage.

On Sunday, Boston was in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins and, notably, Sidney Crosby. The Bruins exploded out to a three goal lead within the first 15 minutes and Patrice Bergeron drove a shot past Penguin goaltender Matt Murray 11 seconds into the game. Another goal two minutes later and a deflected puck put the Bruins in the driver’s seat with a 3-0 lead, but things quickly turned around for Pittsburgh.

Penguins center Dominik Simon shot the puck past goaltender Jaroslav Halak to cut into Boston’s lead. Boston closed out the first period with no further incidents, but the Bruins’ lead would become slimmer in the second period.

Just 33 seconds into the frame, Pittsburgh struck again, bringing themselves within one goal after a disastrous first period. Then, finally, things went from bad to unbearable in the third period.

At the start of the third, Boston’s incredibly talented power-play unit took the ice to try to extend its lead. Instead, while on the penalty kill, the Bruins’ special teams gave up the game-tying goal off a Pittsburgh odd-man rush.

With 7:27 remaining in regulation, a turnover behind the net gave the Penguins an open shot in front of the net. Pittsburgh right wing Bryan Rust buried the puck in the net as Halak completely lost track of the puck. The Bruins were then unable to tie the game and the Penguins’ comeback was complete.

With Pittsburgh skating away victorious, Boston had managed to cough up a three-goal lead. Heading into this game, the Bruins were 200-1-6 when ahead by three at any point during a game since 2011, according to the Associated Press. 

For Boston, this is not the first time this year they have struggled to hold a significant advantage. This trend started back on Nov. 12 when the Bruins hosted the Florida Panthers. In the second period, Boston erupted for a four-goal outburst while also keeping Florida off the scoreboard heading into the second intermission.

Then, just 50 seconds in the final period, the flood gates opened. Over the course of the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Panthers chipped away at the Boston lead before scoring the game-tying goal with less than two minutes left. The Panthers scored four goals on goaltender Tuukka Rask in just 25 shots.

The Bruins would go on to pick up a mere loser point when they failed to win in the shootout. Giving up a four-goal third period advantage at home goes beyond the category of unacceptable. That is especially true when you have your starting goaltender between the pipes. 

Another recent example of the Bruins failing to protect a significant lead occurred last week in Philadelphia. This contest transpired differently from the Panthers game. While the Florida comeback was a tsunami of Panther goals all in one period, the Bruins offered more resistance in staving off a Flyers comeback. 

Boston jumped out to a 5-2 advantage midway through the second period, but the wheels fell off once again for the Bruins.

After two quick goals in less than two minutes, Boston was up only one after two.

Skating four-on-four with just over seven minutes remaining, a Flyer was left uncovered in front of the net. He corralled the puck and fired it into the back of the net. The Bruins again failed to protect a three goal advantage. 

After Boston lost in yet another shootout, Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy voiced his frustration to the media on Philadelphia’s equalizer. 

“It’s inexcusable. You’re in the third period. You’ve got a lead that’s gotten away from you. We’re pretty good at buckling down,” Cassidy said to the media after the game. “I don’t know what to tell you on that particular play. No compete in front of the net, no urgency to keep the puck out of the net from three of our players.” 

Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who was on the ice during Philadelphia’s game-tying goal, was a healthy scratch the next game.

This is not just simply a bad period or one-off game. Losing leads has become a pattern for the Bruins this season. According to a tweet made by Ty Anderson of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Boston has a record of 16-1-6 when they have the lead heading into the third period. The five worst teams in the NHL at winning when up after two are the New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and… the Bruins, who have the second most points in the NHL.

Failing to put games away has cost Boston meaningful points. They have lost overtime games and shootouts they never should have had to play in. The attention to detail and willingness to battle for the puck have been issues for the Bruins during these blown leads. 

Fortunately for Boston, they are still first in their division and they have a roster talented enough to make another deep postseason run and win one more game than they did last spring. Another thing to note is that Rask was in the net for just one of these matchups — the collapse against Florida — but if they do not improve at protecting a lead as a unit, the Bruins could be getting May off. 

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