The NHL’s schedule makers thought the Bruins-Lightning matchup to end the regular season would be an important one for postseason positioning and a chance for first place in the division. But Saturday’s matinee turned out to be a mere formality, with Tampa, Boston, and Toronto securing the top three spots in the Atlantic.
With nothing to play for on paper, the Bruins trotted out a lineup resembling the roster of their minor league affiliates in Providence. They couldn’t give the TD Garden crowd one last win on Fan Appreciation Day, as they fell to the Presidents’ Trophy Winners, 6-3.
David Krejci and Danton Heinen got Boston on the board in the first period with a pair of goals, but the Bruins couldn’t hold on. The Lightning netted six of the next seven tallies en route to an astonishing 62nd win of the season.
“The first thing you always want to do is you play to win,” third-year Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said following the loss. “We talked about certain things they do similar to Toronto in terms of neutral zone rush defense. We still found a way to give up five goals, so we’ll look at that. Never want to do that against a good team, but I don’t think it was like these massive breakdowns one after the other. Team-wise, we checked some boxes but other ones we didn’t hit.”
Here’s what we learned from Game No. 82.
"I like our team. We play hard. We're one of the better teams from start to finish I think in the National Hockey League…I like where we're at as a team."
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 6, 2019
Shorthanded goals allowed are a sore spot heading into the postseason
Boston’s power play was on a roller coaster ride during the regular season.
On one hand, the Bruins have one of the most lethal man-advantage units in the league. They’re hard to beat when the power play starts clicking on all cylinders. With Torey Krug quarterbacking from the blue line, David Pastrnak and company have served up some delightful goals, which has propelled them to victory more often than not.
Yet, the Bruins allowed a league-leading 15 shorthanded goals this season. That’s not a category you want to be leading.
On Saturday, the Bruins went on the power play with a 2-1 lead during the second period. But Steven Stamkos got behind the Bruins defense and fired a backhander past Tuukka Rask for his breakaway shorthanded tally for the momentum-changing tying goal.
The Bruins have Stanley Cup aspirations. But they can’t allow a carryover effect with the shorthanded goals surrendered against Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and the rest of the Maple Leafs. It can be the difference between winning and losing in a tightly contested playoff game.
Bruins hand out year-end awards
The Bruins had a little fun and handed out their annual team awards before puck drop Saturday.
Jake DeBrusk, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara were the notable recipients taking home honors in recognition of their regular-season play. DeBrusk received the Eddie Shore Award for hustle and determination, while Marchand earned the Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy for the most outstanding player during home games and Chara nabbed the John P. Bucyk Award for off-ice charitable contributions.
Marchand (first star) and fellow linemates Patrice Bergeron (second star) and David Pastrnak (third star) also earned three stars honors as selected by 98.5 The Sports Hub.
That wasn’t all. Bruins’ President Cam Neely and the rest of the organization took time to honor Tuukka Rask, who became the winningest goalie in franchise history this season.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 6, 2019
The Maple Leafs await
The regular season is over. All of the injuries, trades, droughts, outdoor games, goal streaks, point streaks, and Conor McGregor appearances are in the rearview mirror. Now it’s time for the Bruins to shift their focus to the playoffs and to the Maple Leafs for the second straight season.
“Well, I feel terrific. I’m an optimist. I like our team, we play hard. We are one of the better teams start to finish, I think, in the National Hockey League, specifically the second half of the year,” Cassidy added. “We’ve played at the right times, we’ve earned our way. We’ve got Toronto, I think it’s a great matchup, great rivalry. Guys should be excited to play.”
Cassidy’s squad defeated Toronto in three of four meetings during the regular season. Yet, as previous playoff matchups with the Leafs showed, the Bruins won’t have an easy out. But they have home ice again — and a pair of Game 7 victories against Toronto — which will come in handy if the series goes the distance for the third time this decade.
The Bruins showed that they can beat any team in the league, including the Lightning. They’ll need a defensive-first mindset along with full health for a potential deep playoff run.
Boston has a little time to recuperate. The excitement of playoff hockey — and another Bruins-Maple Leafs matchup — begins in just a few days at TD Garden.