Just like three friends who tear up Cambridge on Friday night, the Atlantic Division powers are dealing with a painful Saturday morning. And in that fog, the Boston Bruins not only have a chance to pull away from their rivals but rattle their organizations, as well. They will get their next chance Saturday at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Atlantic Division was supposed to be the best division in hockey and perhaps one of the best divisions of the salary cap era. Instead, it has become a rehab facility as teams look to find themselves. The self-doubt and rebuilding identities elsewhere in the division have made it the Bruins showcase. The Atlantic Division with John Tavares and Auston Matthews, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, is now led by Patric Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
Teams which lose in the Stanley Cup Final are supposed to sulk and stumble through the regular season. They are supposed to be beset by mediocrity, tired legs and haunting thoughts of what could have been.
Now, the Bruins are cracking jokes about it. And that’s probably not a bad thing.
Pastrnak is filling the net like an All-Star with something to prove. Pasternak has a pair of 80-point seasons in his rearview mirror and solidly entrenched himself as a bonafide NHL scorer. However, the 25-year-old Czech has upped his game and is laying waste to the competition with Bergeron feeding the way. Pastrnak’s 31 points (16g, 15a) are second in the NHL and his 16 goals are first in the league.
However, after a hot start, the Boston Bruins are finally struggling. Since blowing a three-goal lead to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 11, the Bruins are 0-2-2. Head coach Bruce Cassidy openly wondered if the Cup sting had finally caught up to his team.
“Maybe it’s kicking in earlier than we thought. I don’t know. We’ll talk to the players about that and see where it leads,” Cassidy said after the Bruins 3-2 SO loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Atlantic Quagmire
As much as the Bruins may be struggling, it is far cry from the toe-stubbing in Toronto, where questions are bubbling about Mike Babcock’s future. Toronto is outside the playoff seedings and if not for Pittsburgh’s injury decimation which now includes Sidney Crosby, and the soft middle of the Eastern Conference, Toronto would be lagging well behind a playoff spot. Instead, they are only
Toronto has lost three in a row (0-2-1). And some negative trends are emerging.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Tavares said last weekend. “I think we obviously want to play a lot better, a lot more consistent, and we’ve got to keep working to find a way.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning who were heralded by the hockey world before the season and who essentially cut through the NHL like a buzzsaw last NHL regular season until being humbled by the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets, are still wallowing in their failure to escape the first round.
Tampa Bay lost three of four games, and Alex Killorn dejectedly told the Tampa Tribune, “That’s just how things are going for us right now.”
Perhaps a little gallows humor would help?
Defenseman Ryan McDonaugh also told the paper, “Our group is lacking some confidence. You only get that by winning games, making the plays out there and feeling comfortable out there.”
And the Boston Bruins stand alone at 11-3-4. Their 26 points not only lead the division, but they are also putting space between themselves and their rivals. Montreal and Florida are keeping pace. Perhaps Florida will finally put the pieces of the GM Dale Tallon puzzle together, but Florida isn’t Toronto. Or Tampa Bay.
That loss, THE loss, will forever haunt the players who had to watch St. Louis skate with their prize, on their ice, in front of their fans. But the Bruins do not need to be defined by that loss.
Pastrnak’s career-year pace should inject some life into their tired legs. And a few more jokes wouldn’t hurt.
While the others stumble, the Bruins have a chance to add even more pressure to the Toronto cooker and Tampa Bay doubt. Going 0-2-2 isn’t the worst losing streak the Bruins have endured. To limit the damage now, and begin adding wins again could change the division in serious and significant ways.
Before long, perhaps Joel Quenneville will be recognized as the best remaining coach in the division.