With nine days to spare between games, John Tortorella had the difficult task of balancing work and rest in an attempt to keep his Columbus Blue Jackets as sharp as they appeared in their four-game sweep over the National Hockey League-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The coach settled on four days off, three practices and one scrimmage open to the public to prepare his charges for Round 2.
When asked earlier on Thursday about the value of taking the time off juxtaposed with trying to stave off rust from settling in, Tortorella said his main concern was that there was simply no way to simulate the emotion of a playoff game, that his team would be in for a challenge to start against a Boston Bruins team that was barely 48 hours removed from an emotional Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s not a lot of Xs and Os,” said Tortorella about the preparation that went into Thursday’s game. “It’s about playing in the areas, handling the surges, all different things that happen in the games. We’re going to experience it early. I hope we’re ready. I can’t guarantee how it is. [After] eight or nine days off, I think we can say all the right things, as I’m trying to do right now, but it comes down to the players being mentally ready. It’s not being physically ready; it’s a mental readiness as far as being ready to elevate your compete at the start of the series.”
The puck dropped shortly after 7:00 p.m. ET, and it was in Columbus’s end for almost the entirety of the first period. The Blue Jackets weren’t mentally or physically ready, as they were out-scored 1-0 and Boston registered 26 shot attempts compared to Columbus’s seven.
But they withstood the staggering blow from the Bruins, held the game within reach in the second period and punched back with two goals in 13 seconds of the third period — capturing a 2-1 lead in the process.
What happened from that point forward is a credit to Boston’s resilience, with a 3-2 overtime win for the home team forcing Columbus to face its first bit of true adversity in these playoffs.
We’ll have plenty of time to discuss how the Blue Jackets can overcome it, but first let’s get to some takeaways from a thrilling Game 1 of this second-round series.
Sergei Bobrovsky had his best
As the Bruins tilted the ice at TD Garden in the opening 20 minutes, Columbus’s goaltender kept his team’s chances alive.
Had Bobrovsky capitulated on more than just one of Boston’s 14 shots on net in the frame, the Blue Jackets would have been hard-pressed to make a game of it.
Instead Bobrovsky stopped Jake DeBrusk on a quality chance 1:14 in, then made a sensational save on Patrice Bergeron less than 30 seconds later.
Then it was a big stop on Brad Marchand, and another solid one on Chris Wagner shortly after.
In the sixth minute of the first period, Bobrovsky slid through his crease and pushed out a statement-making pad save on Charlie McAvoy. He made 28 more saves from that point on, notching a total of 34. And he had no chance on any of the goals.
We’re talking about a goaltender who had been at the heart of why the Blue Jackets had never won a series coming in to these playoffs. His appearances in their net over the last three post-seasons had seen him post a paltry .896 save percentage and a horror-show 3.41 goals-against average.
But Bobrovsky turned over a new leaf against a Lightning team that had recorded a record-tying 62 regular-season wins and scored 325 goals in the process. The man they call Bob posted a .932 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average in the first-round sweep, and he was every bit as good in Game 1 against the Bruins.
It’s probably the biggest positive the Blue Jackets can take out of this loss.
Depth scoring a factor for both teams
When Noel Acciari picked off the puck in the neutral zone, charged over the Columbus blue line on a 2-on-1 rush and looked glove-side before shooting across his body and into an open spot between Bobrovsky’s blocker and pad, it marked five of Boston’s last six goals in these playoffs coming from third- or fourth-line players.
Late in the third period, Bruins third-liner Charlie Coyle snapped a shot on the short side to tie the game 2-2 and make it six of seven. And then 5:15 into overtime, with Marcus Johansson holding the puck, Coyle darted to the open space in front of Bobrovsky and buried a pass into the open net to win the game.
The only member of the Bruins bottom-six forwards to not register a point so far in these playoffs is Wagner, who has the excuse of not being dressed in Games 6 and 7 against Toronto.
On the other side of the ice, Columbus’s bottom-sixers have been as much of a factor in their success thus far. And in this game it was Brandon Dubinsky doing the damage, tipping Seth Jones’s point shot in the eighth minute of the third period to get the Blue Jackets on the board.
In truth, former Bruins forward Riley Nash made a big play on the goal and had a stellar game for Columbus.
“I think the past two, three months, the way he reads the game, he’s just a smart positional player,” said Tortorella about Nash before the game. “He has played really well. We’ve found a really good spot for him. I think that line (with Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) has played well, and he makes up for a little bit of lack of foot speed with how smart he is as a player. And he’s played against some top lines, and he’s done a really good job. He’s really come on here at an important time of the year.”
Whether it’s Nash, or Dubinsky, or Jenner, or Coyle, or Johansson, or Acciari, the depth scoring is there for both teams. It’s just one of many examples of how evenly matched the Blue Jackets and Bruins are.
Power-play woes plague Blue Jackets again
Columbus ranked 28th out of 31 teams in the NHL on the power play this season.
At one point, the Blue Jackets failed to score a power-play goal in 11 straight games and went 0-24 over that stretch. And in Game 1 against Boston, they were 0-4 after leading the first round of the playoffs with five power-play goals on 10 attempts against Tampa Bay.
On their first two opportunities of the game — one of them an abbreviated look with Scott Harrington serving the remainder of a tripping penalty — the Blue Jackets failed to register a single shot on net. Columbus also gave up the opening goal to Acciari while Coyle was in the box for tripping.
The Blue Jackets were only marginally better on two second-period opportunities, registering four shots on net in the process. They weren’t able to get any quality scoring chances.
Meanwhile, Boston’s penalty kill was masterful, as it was in Round 1 when it killed off 13 of 16 power plays the Maple Leafs had.
David Krejci missed overtime
The versatile second-line centre of the Bruins, who scored two goals and added three assists in the seven games against Toronto, played 15:36 through the first three periods against Columbus but missed all of overtime with an undisclosed injury.
Krejci had two shots on net and won eight of 12 faceoffs on Thursday before taking this huge hit from Nash.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game that Krejci was day-to-day and specified he was not placed in concussions protocol.
Matt Duchene held in check
Duchene was the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer in Round 1, with three goals and four assists in four games.
“It doesn’t matter what level I’ve played at, playoffs have always been my favourite time of year and I think they are for most guys,” the Haliburton, Ont., native said in an interview with Sportsnet on Wednesday. “I just love the game within the game. You get a series against guys and it’s all these little battles and little head-to-head matchups within one big game or series. I’ve always loved that kind of game within the game and I find it brings out my most competitive side.”
We’re not sure how much Duchene loved playing against Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand for most of Game 1. He was held off the scoresheet and wasn’t able to register a shot on goal.