The Boston Bruins may not make it out of the Eastern Conference Second Round after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.
The Bruins, who won the Presidents’ Trophy with the best points percentage in the NHL during the regular season (.714), are on the brink of elimination after losing 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Saturday. Teams that trail 3-1 are 29-284 (9.3 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL series, including 0-6 this postseason.
Game 5 will be played in Toronto, the East hub city, on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“It’s not where we want to be,” Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk said. “It’s backs against the wall. I think the mindset that we preach throughout the year, it’s perfect for this time, is just focus on the next shift. Focus on the next shift and win your battles, beat the guy across from you. It’s obviously tough being in this kind of environment, in this kind of hole, but this is how you become a champion.”
That was the plan at the start of the season and at the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to finish the “unfinished business” Boston had from last season and from this regular season before it was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
But it has been an up-and-down postseason for the Bruins, who in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers dropped from the No. 1 seed to No. 4. The Bruins then eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the best-of-7 first round but have struggled since winning Game 1 against the Lightning.
“The biggest change we need to make is you look at some of the goals that have happened this series, obviously you’ve got to give them credit, they’ve been burying them,” DeBrusk said. “But we’ve got to execute with the puck. We’ve been playing their game. We played their game for the last three, and this is the result you’re going to get when you play against a team like that in their style.
“Our only chance is if we play our game and stick with it.”
After ranking ninth in the regular season with an average of 3.24 goals per game, the Bruins are averaging 2.36 in the postseason, tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for 16th out of 24 teams. Boston has eight goals in four games in this series but, after scoring three goals in each of the first two games, have scored one each in Games 3 and 4.
“We’ve got to find a way, get traffic in front, get to the dirty areas,” Bruins forward Charlie Coyle said. “I think if we do a little more of that, there’s going to be second, third, fourth efforts there, rebound goal. That’s the way we’ve got to play.”
The Bruins trailed 1-0 before opening the second period with a push. But Ondrej Palat scored his second goal of the game at 12:29 on a shot that went off the glove of Jaroslav Halak to make it 2-0. Then came the dagger, a five-minute major to forward Nick Ritchie for boarding at 13:32.
The Bruins managed to kill 4:32. But they could not finish it off, with Victor Hedman‘s point shot taking a bad-luck bounce off the skate of Boston forward Par Lindholm for a 3-0 Tampa Bay lead. It was difficult to see the Bruins coming back at that point and, ultimately, they could not.
“To score goals, we have to hit the net more often, force [Andrei Vasilevskiy] to make saves, control rebounds,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We were just off net with too many good chances today.”
The question is whether they can change course, find their offense, reverse the way the series is going. They’ll have one chance to do that, or they’ll be heading home from Toronto early, without the championship they believed they could have — and perhaps should have — won last season when they lost to the St. Louis Blues in the Final.
“It’s all mentality,” Coyle said. “We’ve got to regroup, focus on one game at a time. People have been in worse situations and come out on top. We’ve just got to take this one one at a time. Focus on the next game. That’s all we can control right now.”