We don’t know the severity of the sickness that kept Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask from starting in net for his team’s most pivotal game of the season, a must-win matinee Saturday against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden, on an afternoon that would, ultimately, decide their fate for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Whatever sidelined Rask though, it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t the only one vomiting down the spoked “B” on his sweater.
There had to be a piece of every Boston fan who watched their team surrender to the Senators in a 6-1 laugher that hoped the Philadelphia Flyers would lose their pair of weekend affairs if only to force these Bruins players to continue to play in games for which they clearly had no intention of actually showing up.
Perfect. Nothing could have better described this 2015-16 Bruins squad, a mishmash of talent and drive that responded to every challenge laid in front this season in much the same way every time. It was no different on Saturday.
“Obviously very frustrated and disappointed,” the team’s leading scorer Brad Marchand said. “We had the opportunity to make the playoffs and you know, we didn’t take advantage of it. So definitely disappointed.”
Had the Bruins decided to show up on Saturday afternoon, they might have snuck their way into the playoffs as the Red Wings failed to beat a New York Rangers team resting Henrik Lundqvist. Their only hope after “Fan Appreciation” day at the Garden was that the Flyers would only amass one point in between games against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday afternoon and New York Islanders on Sunday.
The Flyers got the two points they needed to overtake the Bruins in a 2-1 win over the Penguins.
Pity the poor soul who had the misconception that the Bruins might have shown up at the Garden with the same energy they possessed in Thursday night’s win over the Detroit Red Wings. This was a team that finished the season 1-1-1 at home, a stretch during which they could have waltzed into the postseason with a three-game sweep. These Bruins reacted to home cooking like Paul Sheldon being served a meal created by Annie Wilkes, finishing a pathetic 17-18-6 on Causeway Street.
The Bruins led, 1-0, after a reviewed David Pastrnak goal ultimately counted in the first period. Ottawa scored four in the second period over the course of eight minutes though, and boos rained from the Garden balconies.
“It’s obviously frustrating to have a great game like we did against Detroit a couple of days ago,” forward David Krejci said. “And you know, after a decent first period and then coming back flat like that in the second, it’s unacceptable. And you know that cost us the game so you know it’s frustrating.”
Rask generated some heat from the Bruins fan base when it was announced immediately before the game that Jonas Gustavsson would get the start in the team’s do-or-likely-die situation. The defense playing in front of him might not have gotten the memo in the second period.
“Obviously, they got a few goals,” Gustavsson said. “They got some deflection goals and rebounds and stuff like that and maybe they were really on their toes and got those breaks and bounces with them as well. We could have scored a few goals like that too in the game; we put a lot of pucks at their net. But obviously me, myself and the team got to find a way to stop the bleeding there and maybe not, like I said, not digging ourselves into a hole like that because it’s tough to come back from.”
Tough? Try impossible.
For these Bruins, at least.
The postgame heat obviously turned to the coaching situation, and now with Philadelphia having secured the final playoff spot, it’s an inevitability that Claude Julien will get his walking papers within the next few days. They let the guy swing in the wind for weeks last summer as Cam Neely and Don Sweeney decided what to do. This time should be a lot swifter.
“Well, I mean, it’s not my decision, to be honest with you,” forward Patrice Bergeron said. “I’ve said a million times that Claude has been the best coach I’ve had, and it’s definitely not on him. It should be on us as his system is there, the gameplan is there, and it’s about us executing, and we didn’t do that. So it should fall back on the players.”
It should. It should fall on the dubious roster the front office gave the head coach, almost as if Neely and Sweeney were daring him to make the playoffs with a group mixed with veterans, youngsters, Max Talbot, and Jimmy Freaking Hayes.
“We all have to accept responsibility here,” Julien said. “Our goal was certainly to duplicate our effort that we had against Detroit. When you look at what happened this afternoon it’s even more disappointing because we could have controlled our own [fate] again and we weren’t able to do that and at times this year we weren’t able to do that. Some of those big games, it’s about the mistakes we kind of made, puck management at times were an issue for us.”
But so was a lack of urgency, something the Bruins desperately lacked earlier in the week against the Carolina Hurricanes and Saturday against the Senators. Both teams finished out of the playoff hunt.
“It’s not the urgency – I think it was the execution,” Julien said. “That was the biggest thing that was missing. Execution can be puck management – the way we gave them goals. Execution can also be where we put pucks, how we forechecked and there was a lot that wasn’t at the level that it needed to be today.”
Today. Tuesday. Last week in New Jersey. The West Coast trip. The Winter Classic…
“That’s what happens when you give points away earlier in the year, it ends up coming down to the wire,” Marchand said.
If earlier in the season means the last three weeks, then sure. The Bruins secured a grand total of seven out of a possible 24 points over their last 12 games. It’s the second year in a row the team has suffered such a catastrophic collapse.
Loui Eriksson will be a free agent and gone by July 1. Why didn’t the Bruins trade him at the deadline again?
There’s a lot of blame to go around, and it will, unfortunately, begin with Julien, who will head out of town as the franchise’s leading winning coach and with a Stanley Cup ring to boot. But maybe after some of his hesitancy to involve younger players, play with a certain desperation in games he has to have (i.e., inserting Marchand in the shootout), and back-to-back deteriorations, it is time to go.
Just don’t truly expect anybody better behind the bench.
“Our A-Game that we needed tonight just wasn’t there,” Julien said.
It wasn’t the only night.
The Bruins, remember, put playoff tickets for sale on April 1.
It was likely inevitable. Eight days later, it’s they who end up as the fools in the punchline.
The choke’s on them.
Memorable images from the old Boston Garden