Their No. 2 seed in the playoffs clinched days earlier, the Bruins lollygagged their way out of the TD Garden Saturday night, in no rush to leave after their 4-3 shootout win over the Sabres on Causeway Street. A few of the boys headed to the North End for dinner. Most of the married guys went home, happy to have an off day Sunday to spend with their families.
At about 7:30 p.m., nearly an hour after his club finished the regular season with 49 wins and 102 points, coach Claude Julien was asked how he would spend the next few hours, given that he still didn’t know if the start of the playoffs this week would bring the Senators or Capitals to his doorstep.
“Once I get rid of you guys,’’ he said, flashing a smile at the collective media crowd, “I am going right back to the TV.’’
Not to split hairs, but following and deciphering the NHL standings has become a lesson in splitting hairs and factoring the square root of pi ever since the 2004-05 season was lost to labor strife and the game’s new way of counting was introduced for the next season. Two points for a win. One point for an overtime loss. Extra credit for games won in regulation time as opposed to games won in overtime or the shootout. No sympathy for an Original Sixer who grew up on 2 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and a $2 for a seat in the Garden’s second balcony.
Uh, hello, H&R Block? No, I’m cool with my tax return, but I wonder, could someone at your place help me read the NHL standings? And might you have a Form B, C, or D to help me figure out the playoff pairings?
Saturday, the final day of the NHL’s regular season (mercy!), was a lesson in quantitative standings analysis (if there is such a thing) on just how to figure out Boston’s first-round playoff opponent.
“It’s going to be Washington or Ottawa, right?’’ said veteran forward Brian Rolston as he prepared to leave the dressing room for the night, his voice reflecting his uncertainty. “I mean, I think that’s it; that’s what one of the guys told me.’’
And in the end, the answer was . . . hold your smartphone . . . Washington! The NHL isn’t expected to release the official playoff schedule until early Sunday afternoon, but the Bruins finally found out around 10 p.m. that it will be D.C. and OV (Alexander Ovechkin) in Round 1. All the math was tallied some three hours after the Bruins dismissed the Sabres.
So, you might wonder, why the Caps?
Because: 1. The Senators, whom the Bruins have anticipated would be their Round 1 opponents for weeks, lost to the Devils, 4-2. That game ended roughly an hour before Patrice Bergeron potted the only goal in the shootout for the win over Buffalo; 2. The Caps, playing on Broadway, spanked the Rangers, 4-1; 3. The Panthers treated a home crowd to a 4-1 win over the Canes.
None of that changed where the Bruins stood in the standings, slotted all cozy-like in the No. 2 spot, but it did drop the Senators to the eighth seed and lifted the Caps to No. 7. Et voilá, faster than you can say, “Honey, buy me a plastic pocket liner and slide rule for my birthday,’’ the top-seeded Rangers ended up with the Senators in Round 1 and the Bruins had a playoff date set with the Caps for the first time since 1998.
We wonder, will they make another visit to the White House?
The Caps took the first-round series in ’98 in six games. It was rookie Joe Thornton’s first taste of the postseason, with coach Pat Burns at the helm, and the happy-go-lucky Jumbo logged his first playoff Full Thornton (0-0-0 in six games). Far more memorable, though, was a Boston goal wiped off the boards because Tim Taylor had a foot an inch or two in the crease, and also a Brian Bellows long-range blast that eluded Boston goalie Byron Dafoe.
The Caps and Bruins also met in the 1990 Cup semis, the Bruins advancing with a four-game sweep. Then Caps captain Dale Hunter, now their coach, nearly decapitated Craig Janney with a two-hander to the noggin - a shot that today would earn Hunter a suspension of at least three games.
“Whoever we face, that doesn’t really matter,’’ said Bergeron, chatting in the postgame media scrum at his locker, “because it’s about us. It’s about how we play.’’
True that. But the 2012 playoff season already has served up its first surprise for the hope-to-repeat-as-Cup-champ Bruins. In a span of some six hours, they traded Canada’s capital city for the USA version. Instead of facing perhaps the game’s most exciting and delicate offense, spiced by smooth Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, they’ll now take on a Caps team that has struggled to find an identity under Hunter, who took over the club this season after Bruce Boudreau was finally sent packing.
In all likelihood, the fun begins Thursday at the Garden, with Game 2 Saturday. But that won’t be made certain until today, when the NHL releases the dates and times of the first eight rounds of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. For hockey fans, including the heavily addicted and only the mildly interested, it is the best time of the year. Winners move on to Round 2. Losers go home. And overtime losses get everything they deserve - nothing.