The Bruins took their first step into the 2020 playoff season on Sunday and stumbled through the ribbon-cutting with a bland, choppy, oft-listless 4-1 loss to the Flyers that certainly didn’t instill confidence that they’ll secure the franchise’s seventh Stanley Cup title by the start of October.
In his postgame comments, coach Bruce Cassidy was initially his usual measured self in assessing the damage.
“We made some individual mistakes,” said Cassidy, whose club stood atop the NHL heap with 100 points when the league shut down on March 12. “We’re going to have to correct those.”
Then, when asked on follow up about the specifics of the correction, Cassidy’s measure turned pointed.
“I’m thinking we’d better making a better ... play with the puck,” he said, obviously perturbed, “is what I’m thinking.”
Which was just the kind of emotion that was absent in Cassidy’s charges throughout the afternoon inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
For a team that has everyone talking about a return visit to the Cup Final, hoping to rewrite last spring’s Game 7 finish, Sunday afternoon didn’t quite fit the ongoing narrative.
“I don’t like to lose — I don’t think anyone on this team likes to lose,” said Chris Wagner, whose goal in the second period cut Philly’s lead to 2-1 and looked like it might supply desperately needed spark. “We play to win the games, so in that context, I’m upset. I think we all are.”
Keep in mind, all ye panic button pressers, the Bruins can lose their remaining two games and finish 0-3 in this round-robin series and it will mean only one thing: They will have slipped form first to fourth in the Eastern Conference seedings. If so, instead of facing the No. 8 seed (to be determined), they would face the No. 5 seed (to be determined) when the playoffs truly begin next week, when all 16 teams in the East and West will hunker down to play a traditional first-round playoff series.
So, all in all, there’s a lot to be determined here before anyone freaks out over one game.
Worth remembering here is that the Bruins stood 0-2 after the first two games of the Cup Final in 2011 vs. Vancouver, then loaded the duck boats less than two weeks later for the time of their lives. It’s hockey. Reversals of fortune sometimes are as quick as line changes.
What matters most now — and why Cassidy’s temperature rose in his postgame comments — is how the Bruins are playing. Measured by such things as intelligence with the puck, breakouts, overall passing urgency, physical play, scoring chances. None of that looked good vs. the Flyers.
Night after night, they checked all those boxes in the regular season and came into this postseason still ranked as the Cup favorite. One week into their life in the NHL bubble, they’re barely checking anything or anyone.
Come Monday morning, they will enter their fourth week of training aimed at getting back where they were in early March. Thus far, all they’ve shown, based on the loss to Philly and Thursday’s exhibition defeat by Columbus, is some five months of rust and a difficulty to shake it.
In his postgame comments, veteran defenseman Torey Krug didn’t refute the idea that the loss to the Flyers delivered a wake-up call.
“Yeah, there is, for sure,” he said. “It’s no secret that we have the luxury to use these three games to rebuild our game. We have to start at the bottom, in the D zone, and work out from there. You’re always striving for that perfect game. Right now, we have to change some things. Get a little bit greasier. Raise our compete level. Manage time and score. It’s playoff hockey. We have to start building our game the right way, because if we don’t, we’re going to be showing up to Game 1 in the first series not feeling comfortable.”
The small dollop of grease they showed came on Wagner’s goal, when he stepped out from behind the net with a Sean Kuraly feed and mashed it by Carter Hart at the left post. No style points. A classic grind goal for the fourth line. The Flyers lead was cut in half, 2-1.
“At the time,” said Wagner, “I thought it would be a game-changing point.”
Yet the momentum shift lasted all of eight seconds. Another breakdown — this one by team captain Zdeno Chara — left Philippe Myers with an open lane on the right side and he nailed a blistering wrister past Jaroslav Halak from the circle with 1:01 left in the second.
Few things crush like instant give-backs. The two sides traded shots nearly evenly the rest of the way, but Bruins’ true scoring chances were nonexistent. They were present but without presence.
An interesting week ahead for sure. Seeding Game No. 2 will be Wednesday vs. Tampa. The Bruins then face the Caps next Sunday to wrap up the round-robin series and then begin elimination play next Tuesday or Wednesday.
“It’s not the first round, but technically it’s a playoff game,” Wagner reminded as he prepared to leave the rink for the hotel. “So I think we kinda have to look at ourselves in the mirror here and get ready for Wednesday. We’re playing Tampa. If we show up and we’re not at our best we could be in trouble.”