The Presidents’ Trophy they earned from last October to March is somewhere in a trophy case, collecting dust. The Bruins will have to earn their No. 1 seed entering the 16-team summertime sprint to the Stanley Cup.
The road became a bit rockier Sunday, with a listless 4-1 loss to the Flyers in their round-robin opener at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Playoff intensity? Uh, no. There was a slight whiff of the preseason, with not a lot of grit and grumpiness on either side. The teams, which opened their Phase 3 return-to-play camps on July 13, would be entering their fourth week of a normal training camp schedule.
But it’s game on, officially, and Bruce Cassidy’s club fell to 0-1 in the three-game set with Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Washington that will determine the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins were more awake on Sunday than in Thursday’s exhibition loss to Columbus. They were not sharp or slick in any area, least of all puck control and decision-making.
“Our breakdowns were costly. Some individual mistakes. Some bad line changes,” Cassidy said, noting all were correctable. “Right now we’re still in a little bit of that summer hockey mode.
“We’ve got to get it out of our system quickly.”
Jaroslav Halak, subbing for an under-the-weather Tuukka Rask, allowed four goals on 29 shots. Bruins turnovers preceded each, and Halak saw enough nightmarish odd-man rushes that he might need a sleeping pill to arrive rested for Monday’s workout.
Halak skated to the bench with 3:54 remaining, but at 6-on-5, the Bruins’ top line found little to build on for Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay.
The Flyers, who haven’t won a playoff series since the 2012 East quarterfinals against Pittsburgh, got 34 stops from Carter Hart, who was anything but rattled.
More observations from Sunday’s game:
▪ Chris Wagner’s goal with 1:09 left in the second period cut Philly’s lead to 2-1. Walpole Wags made a power move to the net, turning at the goal and stuffing a no-angle shot into the crease that banked off defenseman Robert Hagg’s skate. But the Bruins, iffy with the puck all afternoon, gave it right back.
▪ Eight seconds later, Zdeno Chara was indecisive off the faceoff win. He coughed it up near the bench, and Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers rolled in and whipped a shot past Halak’s blocker. It would have been a big save if Halak got it. But it’s hard to fault the goaltender for missing a hard, perfectly placed 2-on-1 shot.
▪ In the 11 minutes after Wagner’s late goal in the second and extending into the third, the Flyers outshot the Bruins 9-0, and outscored them 2-0. The Bruins didn’t get a shot in the third period until the 9:40 mark.
“I’m upset. I think we all are,” Wagner said. “I think we have to look ourselves in the mirror here.”
▪ At 5 on 5 in the third period, the Bruins were out-attempted 16-5, and outshot 10-2. The Flyers had four scoring chances and the Bruins had zero.
▪ Philadelphia’s top line, centered by Sean Couturier, held the Patrice Bergeron line in check. At 5 on 5, Bergy’s Bunch were outshot 4-1 and outscored 2-0. They allowed eight shot attempts and earned five. Meanwhile, the Bruins’ third line of Anders Bjork, Charlie Coyle and Karson Kuhlman was the most promising: 15-4 in shot attempts, 7-2 in shots, but they allowed a goal.
▪ The Flyers struck first, 5:33 into the second, as the Bruins were chasing the play. Rookie defenseman Jeremy Lauzon parried two prime Philly chances on previous shifts, including a 3-on-1 break, with a sharp stick. But after Bergeron couldn’t clear at the end of a long shift for the top line (1:10), Lauzon whiffed on a stick check of Travis Sanheim, who walked in and fed Michael Raffl. Torey Krug was caught in between Flyers in front as Raffl roofed one past Halak.
▪ Ex-Bruins farmhand Nate Thompson, the Flyers’ 36-year-old fourth-line center, made them pay again with 10:29 left in the second. He placed a floating snapper over Halak’s blocker-side shoulder.
▪ The ice at Scotiabank Arena, which hosted three August playoff games the day before, was not prime for the 3 p.m. start. Given the surface, both teams were a bit too fine in their playmaking. On one chance nine minutes into the second, Krug fired a cross-ice pass to Jake DeBrusk through middle-lane traffic as the Bruins were crashing the net. Putting it on the net may have been a better option.
“You’re not in that keep-it-simple mode yet,” Cassidy said. “That’s what cost us the hockey game. It’s not that we broke down all over the ice. We made some individual mistakes. We’re going to have to correct them.”
“I’m thinking we need to make a better ... play with the puck,” Cassidy said. “Is what I’m thinking.”