The Boston Bruins haven’t showcased the same sharpness we saw before the pause of the NHL’s season. But, upon licking their wounds from their lackluster 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers a few days ago, Bruce Cassidy’s squad showcased improvement against a highly skilled Tampa Bay Lightning bunch.
Yet, despite tying things up following a 2-0 deficit, they still found themselves on losing end in Toronto on Wednesday.
Bruce Cassidy’s side fell to 0-2 in round-robin play as Tyler Johnson’s goal with 1:27 left in regulation propelled Tampa to a 3-2 victory.
With the loss, Boston — the only 100-point team in the NHL this season — won’t earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference bracket. It seems cruel and unusual, but that’s the sports landscape we’re living in with the coronavirus pandemic.
“That parts sucks, I’m not going to lie to you,” Bruce Cassidy said about losing the top overall seed. “This is one year I think seeding is less relevant than others.”
“I don’t care where we finish,” Tuukka Rask added. “You have to beat everyone anyways.”
The Bruins nearly had a perfect finish, yet another slow start ultimately doomed them against the Bolts.
Brayden Point struck first 7:33 into Wednesday’s tilt and Alex Killorn had a puck deflect off his skate into the net three minutes later to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 first period lead.
The Bruins found life in the middle stanza when Charlie McAvoy sent a one-timed slapshot past Andrei Vasilevskiy (25 saves) to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Boston used that momentum from McAvoy’s tally into the final period. Chris Wagner quickly evened things up just 1:47 in as the Bruins found their skating legs and looked more like the bunch we saw in March.
But their furious push for a come-from-behind victory came to a halt late in regulation. Tampa Bay surged in the final five minutes with a flurry of chances, forcing Rask to make several spectacular saves, before Johnson potted home a rebound from the slot for the game-winner
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s third consecutive defeat.
The top line needs to step up
It’s not often that there is blame to be shed on Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
But heavy lies the crown.
The potent trio has hardly looked sharp since returning to the ice.
Wagner, a bottom-six cog, leads the Bruins with two goals in the round-robin stage. The Walpole native has two more goals than the top line combined.
That’s right. Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, who shared the league lead in goals with Alex Ovechkin in the regular season, have zero tallies through two games against elite competition. That’s hardly ideal, but they still have time to find their groove again.
Seeding isn’t everything
As crazy as it may sound, the Bruins losing all three games in the round robin isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing either.
Seeding this year is a luxury, not a necessity.
The biggest takeaway from the round-robin stage is how you play entering Round of 16. And, for much of the first two games, the Bruins have looked downright awful. They’ve been outplayed, outworked and outscored 11-4 over the last week
The Bruins are one of the only teams that haven’t won a game yet, be it in an exhibition or qualifying round.
But most teams aren’t playing upper-echelon teams like the Bruins have done over the past two games. On Wednesday, they showed they’re capable of competing against the very best.
Would it be better if the Bruins won all of their games? Of course. But would I favor them against almost every team in the second round? Absolutely.
There were some positive takeaways
Now for the positives.
First and foremost, the Bruins just went toe to toe against another elite squad in Tampa without any contributions from their top line.
Secondly, Rask showed his playoff form in the third period when he made a plethora of saves down the stretch to give his team a chance. The Bruins will remain a dangerous squad as long as the Vezina finalist remains dialed in.
Lastly, these games don’t really matter. The Bruins are essentially playing free hockey giving them ample time to correct their mistakes before the competition heats up.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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