Bruins kiss chance at Eastern Conference’s top two seeds goodbye
The Presidents’ Trophy winning Boston Bruins, the NHL’s lone 100 point team won’t be one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference when the traditional 16-team tournament begins next week.
They have no one to blame but themselves.
After an ugly showing in their first of three round-robin contests on Sunday against the Flyers, the Bruins were better at times on Wednesday against the Lightning.
But the lack of a complete effort proved costly as Tyler Johnson’s game-winning goal with 1:27 to go in the third period dropped the Bruins to 0-2 in the round-robin format.
They’ll conclude round-robin play on Sunday against the Capitals.
With losses in their first two games, and the Capitals and Lightning each picking up a point in their contest on Monday, the best the Bruins can do is the East’s third seed.
“Well that part sucks, I’m not going to lie to you,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy. “But, that’s the situation this year with the stoppage of play. We knew the rules going into it. That we would lose a bit of the advantage we’d gained.”
The Bruins found themselves in a 2-0 first period hole Wednesday afternoon, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort. A pair of bad bounces later and the Bruins were behind the eight ball.
“I don’t think our first period was poor to be honest with you. The first goal, we put in our own net, kind of was going wide and it went in off Charlie [McAvoy]’s skate,” said Cassidy. “Second one was a double deflection, so those are going to happen. I didn’t think the ice was tilted heavily for them.”
Coming out of their loss to the Flyers, Cassidy wanted to see better puck management and more fire from his club, he got both against the Lightning. Although it wasn’t the most riveting of hockey fights you’ve seen, Torey Krug and Blake Coleman dropped the gloves, while big hits and reactions to instances where the Bruins felt lines were crossed seemed to spark the team.
“We wanted to show more passion, more competitiveness than we did against the Flyers. I certainly thought we did that, some of that is Tampa has become a natural rival. They’re finding ways to win games at the end against us,” said Cassidy.
“We’re going to have to obviously correct that. I did like that our competitive spirit came out. We got behind, we didn’t get away from our game. We didn’t lose our composure either or discipline. I thought we kept playing, tried to ramp up the physicality, win a few more pucks. Create energy in that fashion.”
The Bruins lineup looked a little different Wednesday night as Nick Ritchie drew into the lineup for Jack Studnicka, skating to the left of David Krejci and Karson Kuhlman. Jake DeBrusk was dropped to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork.
Between the pipes, Tuukka Rask returned for the Bruins after being deemed unfit to participate in Sunday’s loss.
“Yeah I felt good, a lot of action there. Early on, tough couple bounces but just try to make some saves and get that rhythm back in the game. I felt pretty good,” said Rask.
“I felt normal out there. I got to improve my hip flexors out there, they were cramping up at the start of the second period, so I guess that’s probably what it is. I was seeing the puck well, I was moving well, I had legs, I was tracking the puck, so I’ve got to be happy with that. That was my first real game in a couple months so I’m pretty happy how I felt.”
Rask did not seem too concerned with the fact that Bruins are out of the running for the first or second seed, instead focusing on the importance of improving going into Sunday, and then their best-of-seven series next week.
“If you want to make a run in the playoffs you have to beat every team anyways. The situation is what it is. 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,” said Rask.
“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 got to beat everybody anyways so whatever.”
The Bruins are a long way from being close to where they game was when the league paused in March. But Sunday’s effort was better than their effort in the return-to-play exhibition loss to the Blue Jackets last week. And Wednesday’s loss was a better effort than Sunday.
Hopefully with this coming Sunday's contest with the Capitals, the Bruins can take another step forward and get themselves ready for when the games matter much more than they have in these round-robin contests.
Now that the top two seeds are out of the equation, all the focus shifts to improving on what’s been a rough start to bubble hockey in Toronto.
“We’re just trying to win a hockey game right now, get our game together for 60 minutes so that we can be at our best so that whoever we meet – this is one year I do believe the seeding is less relevant than others. I think everyone has discussed that,” added Cassidy.
“Would. I have rather been number one seed? Absolutely, keep it. That’s not going to happen so like I said, we’ll get ready for Washington and play the best game we can and like I said, prepare for the postseason. That’s our ultimate goal, we have to win 16 games. We knew that going in. That will still be our goal.”