The Boston Bruins had to sit in their NHL bubble hotel rooms in Toronto Saturday night, and just like fans at home, watch the Philadelphia Flyers grab the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the top seed that the Bruins earned by amassing 100 points and a .714 winning percentage in 70 games during the COVID19-truncated 2019-20 regular season.
Now, the Bruins will play the New York Islanders if they beat the Capitals Sunday or the Carolina Hurricanes if they lose. With only one round-robin game remaining before they will be playing for their postseason lives, urgency seems to be something that the Bruins forgot to pack. And it hasn’t arrived in the mail, either.
“If you want to make a run in the playoffs you have to beat every team anyways. The situation is what it is,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said after making 34 saves in the 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The loss eliminated the Bruins from contention to maintain the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the NHL.
Rask, who will start again against Washington on Sunday, joked that a worst-case scenario will see the Bruins changing in the visitors’ dressing room at Scotiabank Arena.
“I think the worst case that’s going to happen is we’re going to lose the locker room in our practice rink so that’s about it. I really don’t care where we finish. We just have to focus on our game and try to improve that come Sunday and going into next week. You’ve got to beat everybody anyway so whatever.”
The Boston Bruins have had bad starts against the Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers before them. While they played a much better second period and the first half of the third period in the loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday, there something seems to be missing. They have yet to come close to resembling the refined Stanley Cup contender that most across the NHL gave the best chance to hoist the most coveted trophy in hockey before the pandemic hit.
Yet, if you listened to or watched head coach Bruce Cassidy on Saturday – who basically defended the team’s nonchalant attitude on and off the ice – he doesn’t seem the least bit worried that his players won’t be able to just turn that playoff switch on.
“Our guys are not in a bad place; they’re really not,” Cassidy said following practice Saturday. “I mean, we wanted to win; we wanted to play better and we wanted to preserve the number one seed but we have a veteran group that knows what the ultimate goal is and what’s at stake. So, they know that, come Tuesday or Wednesday – I assume we’ll open one of those two days – they know how to play playoff hockey.”
Cassidy’s right but wasn’t the whole point of winning the Presidents’ Trophy with the best regular season record (44-14-12, 100 points, .714) in the NHL to get to start your playoff campaign against the team with the least points. Thanks to the season being paused on March 12 due to COVID19 and then an expanded 24-team playoff format and round-robin for seeding in the NHL Return, the only way the Bruins were going to keep that top seed was if they ran the table against the Flyers, Lightning and tomorrow against the Capitals. Instead, they’ve run under the table so far going 0-2-0, losing 4-1 to the Flyers and 3-2 to the Lightning.
As always, Bruins veteran and number one center Patrice Bergeron was thinking of ways his team could improve rather than shrugging off the fact the Bruins missed out on a chance to play their bitter rivals, the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. The 24th overall-ranked team and 12th-ranked in the East Habs upset Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and looked poised for a potential Cinderella run but they are still the worst team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and might never find that lost skate before midnight.
“I think we have to keep communicating and keep improving, getting better,” Bergeron said after the loss to the Lightning. “Obviously we haven’t had a chance to play as a unit throughout camp, and we knew it was going to take a little bit of time to get everything back.”
Should the Boston Bruins not start to follow Bergeron’s lead again and instead get bounced from the bubble and sent back to Boston before the Conference Finals begin in Edmonton, they will only have themselves to blame. For the second straight year, there will be no shortage of blank stares in the mirror as they wonder once again how such a rare opportunity slipped through their collective fingers.