It had to end at some point. There’s no shame to admit that.
The Bruins still gave themselves a chance to win in Pittsburgh Sunday night despite their sloppy play. But they fell short of another last-minute comeback bid as the Penguins ended Boston’s impressive 19-game point streak with their 4-2 victory.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad began their 19-game run with a tightly contested pack in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They’ve now separated themselves from the wild card picture and find themselves in a battle for home ice with the Toronto Maple Leafs entering their final 13 games of the regular season.
The Black and Gold have a tough road these next few games with a pair of games against the Blue Jackets and road contests in Long Island and Winnipeg. But before looking ahead, let’s close the book on the second-longest point streak in franchise history with a few observations from their 19-game run.
1. I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me the Bruins would go on a lengthy run following losses to the Jets and Flyers in the extra session at the end of January. Yet, that’s exactly when their impressive two-month stretch began. Their gutsy 1-0 win over the Washington Capitals provided a desperate lift for a Bruins squad that lost five of six — two coming in regulation — entering their Super Bowl Sunday tilt. They also snapped a lengthy 14-game losing streak against Braden Holtby and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Gotta think the Caps have the edge if these two teams meet in the playoffs given their recent history, but the Bruins wouldn’t be heavy underdogs at all if they cross paths in the Conference Finals.
2. Patrice Bergeron skated in his 1,000th game two nights later. His history of injuries may catch up to him eventually, but who thought he’d achieve this milestone after suffering a severe concussion a decade back at the hands of former Flyers defenseman Randy Jones? Bergeron’s perseverance has paid off and he isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He’ll get his record-setting fifth Selke Trophy in June barring any weird circumstance in the voting department. He may get some Hart Trophy consideration as well, and deservingly so.
3. NESN’s broadcast of Bruins games sometimes comes under scrutiny from the social media mob. The network deserves praise, however, for the job well done on their Bergeron 1,000 documentary, detailing his career and his charitable personality. Those who haven’t watched the hour-long masterpiece need to do so ASAP.
4. He may not have a documentary in the near future, but Brad Marchand is making his own headlines on social media. Of course, we know about his tweets regarding Mitch Marner’s future and his fun jabs with fellow teammate Torey Krug. He’s also shown his kindness and generosity toward others on social media platforms, including Jillian Murphy, who was a special guest of his last Tuesday night. Murphy, who suffers from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, recalled her experience in a touching post that you should all read. While you’re at it, visit the official Bruins’ website for a special feature on the bond between Murphy, Marchand and the rest of the Bruins.
— Jillian Murphy (@jmurphx11) March 1, 2019
5. Well, Murphy doesn’t have too much to complain about with Marchand’s performance of late. The veteran is on pace for a 98-point season and has picked up the slack in David Pastrnak’s absence. He hasn’t been perfect by any means, but the 2006 third round choice hasn’t put his team in a bad spot yet this season.
6. Marchand’s hot streak comes at a good time with Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Marcus Johansson, Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk on the injured list. Yet, the battle-tested Bruins went through a rough stretch during the first half of the season when every regular seemingly dropped like flies. Head coach Bruce Cassidy did a marvelous job navigating his team through injuries and inconsistent scoring all season long. It’s head-scratching to see certain pundits leaving him off their Jack Adams watch because the Bruins would likely be on the outside looking in without their third-year bench boss.
7. Cassidy has seen certain players thrive under his system, and some have come as a surprise. Chris Wagner, for one, is someone who comes to mind. Yes, he may not be surprised by his offensive output, but I can’t imagine anyone predicting that the Walpole native would sit sixth on the team in goal scoring. He’s a fine choice for NESN’s 7th Player Award, as are Grzelcyk and Jaroslav Halak, just to name a few.
8. Halak’s hot start to the season may give him a leg up in the 7th Player Award department. Anton Khudobin did a fine job as a backup to Tuukka Rask last season, but Halak is a clear upgrade. The journeyman netminder has had a fine bounce-back season following his last year with the Islanders in 2017-18 and gives the Bruins a reliable option behind Rask any given night. Rask, who carries his 19-game point streak into Tuesday’s tilt with the Blue Jackets, earned his net back after returning from a personal absence in November. But Cassidy won’t be shy pulling the trigger on Halak if Rask falters during the postseason.
9. The crickets you hear? Those are from the anti-Tuukka crowd. The Finn is two games away from matching Pete Peeters’ 21 game-point streak — the second most in team history — and is posting a Vezina-like season (24-8-5, 2.30 GAA, .921 SV%, 3 SO). He has one Stanley Cup under his belt as Tim Thomas’ backup and backstopped the club back to the final in 2013 with a historic performance holding Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the high-powered Penguins to just two goals during the Conference Finals. Of course, the Rask detractors will quickly point out the 3-0 collapse against the Flyers in 2010 and the two goals allowed 17 seconds in Game 6 against the Blackhawks three years later as sore spots, but the all-time winningest goalie gave his team a chance to win prior to those collapses. That’s all you can ask for.
10. A healthy Brandon Carlo would be a welcomed sight come playoff time. Everyone is rooting for Carlo to finally make his postseason debut. The Colorado Springs native is having the finest season of his young career. Don’t confuse him with a talented puck-moving blue-liner like Torey Krug by any means, but the third-year pro isn’t shy shooting the puck and jumping into the rush when needed. Those traits only compliment his stay at home prowess and the Bruins could use that in their destined Round 1 matchup with the Maple Leafs.
11. Carlo is one of a few RFA’s this off-season. Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen are the other two notables. Without Carlo’s injury his rookie season, the Bruins would’ve waited to bring up McAvoy until the fall of 2017. The former Boston University standout filled in admirably in that first-round loss to the Senators two years ago and gave Bruins fans a glimpse into his potential. He’s playing at an elite level after coming back from his second injury this season and deserves a big payday this summer.
12. Skating with Bergeron and Marchand will boost almost any player. The same is true for Heinen, who looks more confident skating with proven commodities rather than players who weren’t ready for primetime like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. The former University of Denver product has 12 points (1 goal, 11 assists) in 13 games since filling Pastrnak’s void on the top line.
13. With his newfound success with Bergeron and Marchand, one would think that Heinen is a keeper on the top line when Pastrnak returns. On the other hand, the Bruins have a little more depth than they did prior to Pastrnak’s thumb injury. Putting Pastrnak with a healthy DeBrusk and David Krejci gives the Bruins more of a well-rounded lineup, but Heinen wouldn’t be in a bad spot with the two talented second liners either. Cassidy could go back to Johansson on Line 2, but the veteran provides a better fit on the third line with fellow trade deadline addition and Weymouth native Charlie Coyle.
14. Coyle, himself, will get an audition on the second line in Columbus with Krejci and Peter Cehlarik Tuesday night. He only has one assist in eight games with his new club, but the former BU talent is a clear upgrade in the middle of the lineup. His puck pursuit and versatile play are a welcomed sight. Now he just needs the results to compliment his hard work.
15. At the time of the Coyle trade, I said that this reminds me of the 2011 acquisition of Rich Peverley. The Bruins gave up a raw player with upside in Blake Wheeler to bolster the third line with Peverley. The former Atlanta Thrasher thrived in that important role during the Cup run and Wheeler blossomed into a team captain and a stellar power forward for the Winnipeg Jets. Say what you want about Peter Chiarelli, but this move, in particular, filled a key cog during that Cup run. Both sides should be happy with that trade.
16. And if history repeats itself, the Bruins and Wild will be happy about the Coyle for Ryan Donato transaction as well. The former Harvard star has nine points in ten games with his new club. He wouldn’t have gotten the same minutes in Boston if he were called back up from Providence prior to the trade. Sometimes a new venue can do wonders for a new player, and Donato is certainly happy now with his situation in Minnesota.
17. The plethora of Bruins’ prospects made Donato expendable at the deadline. Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon are a few standouts that could make the big club next season, especially given Boston’s salary cap outlook heading into the summer. McAvoy, Carlo and Heinen are all due for extensions and it’s hard to imagine Zdeno Chara not returning again next season. Another busy summer awaits for Sweeney.
Put Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka on the hands team pic.twitter.com/7EdFhQ9bRT
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) February 26, 2019
18. One of the core players that Sweeney may have to part ways with is Torey Krug. The soon to be 28-year-old will enter his final season on his contract with a $5 million cap hit when the fiscal year begins on July 1. Even a David Backes buyout provides little cushion for Sweeney to ink all the pending RFAs while keeping Krug in the fold. But he’s still here and provides valuable postseason experience and success in the short-term. The former Michigan State Spartan has 28 points in 38 career postseason games dating back to 2013. He may be overmatched at times by bigger defenders, but Krug isn’t bad at breaking up plays in the neutral zone. He more than makes up for any defensive inefficiencies it with his stellar offensive awareness and the Bruins are glad to have him in the fold for now.
19. Saving the final thought for a plea to the NHL: Please go back to the old playoff format. In no way, shape or form should the winner of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series have to face the league-leading Lightning in Round 2. Heck, you can go back to awarding the top two seeds to division winners. Under this format the playoff matchups would go as follows if the season ended today: Lightning-Blue Jackets, Capitals-Penguins, Bruins-Hurricanes and Maple Leafs-Islanders in the East and Sharks-Wild, Jets-Stars, Flames-Blues and Predators-Golden Knights out West. What intriguing matchups here with another Caps-Pens battle, John Tavares facing his former team again and two party cities in Vegas and Nashville. Sign me up for those.
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