The Boston Bruins have not had a smooth ride in the NHL postseason.
They went winless in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Presidents’ Trophy winners with the best record in the regular season dropping to the No. 4 seed for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their top-scoring forward, David Pastrnak, has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries, and their No. 1 goalie, Tuukka Rask, has gone home and it’s unclear if he will return this season.
But after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round, the Bruins find themselves exactly where they want to be: the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We’ve never really made things easy around here,” Bruins president Cam Neely said Thursday. “The guys are focused on who’s here and what we have to do to play well and to give ourselves a chance to win.
“It’s really about the group here and our players really focus on that. They talk a lot about it. They’re really a close group to begin with, both young and older players really get along well, have a lot of fun together. They’re tight both on and off the ice, which I think helps make a successful club.”
It was a few hours before Game 3 against No. 5-seeded Carolina on Aug. 15 when Rask, one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy for the best goalie in the NHL, announced he was leaving Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference, to attend to his family.
With the series tied after losing Game 2, the Bruins inserted backup Jaroslav Halak into the lineup and won the next three games to close it out. Halak has allowed nine goals on 102 shots, for a .912 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average.
“He’s a competitor both on and off the ice,” Neely said of Halak. “He’s well focused. Obviously a little surprising to get the call when he did, but as a backup goaltender you’ve got to be prepared to come in at any time. I thought he stepped in and did a good job for us.”
Neely did not comment when asked if Rask might rejoin the team at some point in the playoffs. He said that the Bruins are focusing solely on who is with them, and what they have ahead of them. An opponent for the second round had yet to be determined.
“I have not spoken to Tuukka the last few days,” Neely said. “Obviously, as you know, as [general manager] Don [Sweeny] mentioned, he came and spoke to us the morning of Game 3 where he said that he had to go home to deal with a family emergency. So we respected that. Now it’s about the guys that are here and the team that we have here. That’s what we have to focus on.”
To that end, the Bruins have had some good news of late. Pastrnak, who missed all but one practice in training camp, and who was unfit to play Games 2, 3 and 4 of the series against the Hurricanes, returned for Game 5, and had two assists. He has four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in five games in the playoffs, after scoring 48 goals in the regular season, tied with the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin for the most in the League.
But Pastrnak remains rusty and has not been on the ice much since the NHL paused its season on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He didn’t score a point in the three round-robin games, one of the reasons the Bruins fell to the No. 4 seed.
Though several Bruins shrugged that slide off, Neely said it was frustrating to watch the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last season and earn 100 points and the top spot in the NHL before the pause, go 0-3-0 in the round-robin.
“It was a little upsetting,” Neely said. “You win the Presidents’ Trophy, but you’re the fourth seed in the playoffs. I get the fact that we needed to play some games while the other teams were in the qualifying round. It was a little disappointing. Our guys needed a tune-up.
“We are where we are, and we’ve moved on from that.”
And into the second round.