This was exactly the scenario the Boston Bruins hoped wouldn’t happen.
The Bruins entered the Stanley Cup Qualifiers with the best points percentage in the NHL (.714). They will leave the Qualifiers with the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, falling from first to fourth by losing their three round-robin games, including 2-1 to the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
But after the game, the Bruins didn’t seem overly concerned about their performance, about their drop to the No. 4 seed, nor about what happened during the round-robin, at all.
“I think these first round-robin games or whatever they were, you just try to shake the rust off and get your team in a place you want it to be,” said goalie Tuukka Rask, who allowed two goals on 25 shots Sunday. “I think we kind of improved over these three games. We worked very hard for our goals, just didn’t get rewarded, but I think that’s going to come. You find a way.
“It doesn’t matter what seed you are. You have to beat every team anyway if you want to advance. I think we feel good. It’s over now, and we start real hockey.”
As the No. 4 seed, the Bruins will play the No. 5 seed Carolina Hurricanes in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the hub city for the East. The Hurricanes were the first team to advance by sweeping the New York Rangers in their best-of-5 Qualifiers series.
The Bruins swept the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final last season.
“This round-robin, obviously it was kind of like playoff hockey, but it wasn’t the same,” Boston forward David Krejci said. “It wasn’t best-of-7, it’s just not the same. So, I’m looking forward to first round.”
Very few things have gone right for the Bruins since they opened training camp. David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase missed camp, ruled unfit to participate, with Kase finally playing in his first postseason game Sunday, trying to integrate into a team he joined Feb. 21 in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks.
He had the primary assist on Jake DeBrusk‘s goal at 10:30 of the third period against the Capitals.
The Bruins have not had a lead this postseason and scored four goals in three round-robin games. Boston also lost its exhibition game, 4-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We got better defensively against good offensive teams in [the Tampa Bay Lightning] and Washington,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We tightened up there structurally. I thought we got through the neutral zone well the last few games, better offensively, so that’s starting to come.”
And as for their No. 1 line of of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak?
“You look at our top line, they’ve been held off the score sheet,” Cassidy said. “And I believe that it’s going to be a tough task for Carolina to do that on a consistent basis. I think that those guys will be able to get their game going.”
They also need better play from their defensemen, including captain Zdeno Chara. They will need that second line to jell quickly, and their depth to contribute. They need their power play to come to life and to stop taking bad penalties. They need to finish.
“Obviously we didn’t like how these games went, but we got better as we went along,” DeBrusk said. “It’s just a matter of taking it out in Game 1 here, going up against a really good Carolina team. We saw them last year, we know they’re going to be ready. It’s just a matter of playing better.”