After the 48th and final game of the regular season, a 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators before 17,565 at TD Garden on Sunday night, Claude Julien assembled his players for instruction before dismissing them until Tuesday.
Julien reminded his team that when the Bruins square off against Toronto in the first round, they will be two of 16 clubs participating in postseason play. Players from 14 other teams will be watching at the clubhouse following the first of their many tee times.
“There’s a lot of teams right now that are doing something different than what we’re doing,’’ Julien said. “We should be happy about that. We start from scratch. Everybody has the same record going into the playoffs. Now it’s a new season. It’s an opportunity for us to challenge for the Cup.’’
It was the first of many rebuilding projects that Julien and his staff have before them prior to Game 1 Wednesday night at the Garden.
The Bruins are not entering the playoffs as a confident group. They lost three of their last four games. Their first setback was a 5-2 humiliation against Philadelphia last Tuesday. On Saturday, they gagged away a 2-0 third-period lead and watched the Capitals claim a 3-2 overtime win.
On Sunday, the Bruins could have wrapped up the Northeast Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over Ottawa. The Bruins had been 4-0 against the Senators this season.
But the Bruins fell behind by two goals. They rallied to tie the game in the third, but saw the hard-working Senators score the winning goal when Jean-Gabriel Pageau crashed the net and dumped a rebound behind Tuukka Rask at 16:26 of the third. Kyle Turris added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“Probably our biggest challenge going into the playoffs is the ability to score some goals,’’ Julien said. “If we can find that, it will make a big difference in our team. Five on five, for the most part, we’ve been much better lately. We’ve created a lot of scoring chances. But at the end of the day, that’s the main thing that’s been hurting us.’’
The Bruins got some life late in the second period. Down, 2-0 (goals by Erik Condra and Jared Cowen), the Bruins went on the power play at 18:00 when Cory Conacher was called for holding. At 19:56, the Bruins got on the scoreboard.
Wade Redden supported the attack, tracked down a puck along the right wall, and dished a pass to Rich Peverley an instant before absorbing a wallop from Marc Methot. Peverley snapped a sharp-angle shot that beat Robin Lehner to make it 2-1.
Lehner also couldn’t stop the next puck that came his way. Just 14 seconds into the third period, Dennis Seidenberg fired a shot from the right point. Lehner was positioned to stop it, but it sailed over him and into the net.
The Bruins had tied the game. The crowd was behind their boys. The Bruins had the Senators on the ropes and Lehner questioning his confidence.
But the Bruins managed only six more shots for the rest of the period. Had they fired more rubber on Lehner, he may have cracked under the heat.
“We had a lot of push today,’’ Seidenberg said. “Again, we just couldn’t score and get those necessary goals. They just did. They buried their chances. That’s what killed us at the end.’’
The line that has to improve is that of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. They have been the most consistent two-way unit all season.
But they didn’t produce offensive results in the final games.
Seguin closed the regular season with five straight games without a goal. Halfway through Sunday’s second period, Seguin had a glittering chance. But he winged his shot wide of the net. The Senators regrouped, dashed the other way, and saw Cowen dump a one-timer past Rask for a 2-0 lead.
Marchand had only one shot, and took a foolish slashing penalty on Erik Karlsson at the end of the first period. Marchand has just one point in his last four games.
Bergeron has one assist in his last seven games since returning from a concussion. The sputtering play of his wingmen hasn’t helped. But Bergeron hasn’t reclaimed the offensive presence he boasted before suffering his injury.
The Bruins don’t have much time to find their confidence. They must reload and regroup promptly.
“I think so,’’ David Krejci said, when asked if the team was ready for the playoffs. “If not, we have a couple days. We’ve got to turn the page. Whatever happened, if guys, as a team, or as individuals, we had maybe a bad season or some ups and downs, it doesn’t really matter.
“Now is the time to turn the page. We start from 0-0. We’ve got to focus on that and just move forward.’’