When the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs opens early next week, the Bruins will make the kind of strange history befitting our virus-laden times.
They will be the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to not start the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in their conference.
Such is Summer 2020 for the Black and Gold, who fell to 0-2 in the NHL’s round robin return-to-play tournament with a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, with time running short to get his charges up to speed before elimination games begin, got a strong second half against Tampa. Something to build on, certainly — the Bruins erased a two-goal deficit and carried much of the third period.
They pushed back after a messy start, tied the game on a Chris Wagner goal with 18 minutes to go, and saw netminder Tuukka Rask settle into a rhythm. Ultimately, though, it was different team, same result.
A big rebound to the slot and a Tyler Johnson putback with 1:27 left spelled doom for Rask and the Bruins, who needs two Washington losses (against Philadelphia on Thursday, against Boston on Sunday) to secure the No. 3 seed. If not, they will be No. 4.
“That part sucks,” Cassidy said. “I’m not going to lie to you.”
Cassidy said that seeding is “less relevant” this year, when everyone has been off for nearly five months, play is uneven, and pucks are bouncing willy-nilly. In the first round, the Bruins could be looking at No. 5 Pittsburgh (yet to advance), No. 6 Carolina, which advanced, or the No. 7 N.Y. Islanders.
“You gotta beat everybody anyways,” Rask said. “Whatever.”
Rask, who saved 32 of 35 shots, allowed Johnson’s goal with his teammates changing and a bit tardy on the backcheck, something that Cassidy noted has plagued them through two games. The netminder looked stout after allowing a shaky early goal, robbing Tampa star Brayden Point twice in the final seven minutes amid several flurries of saves.
“I mean I felt good,” said Rask, quarantined two days last week because he reported a cough. “I felt normal out there. I got to improve my hip flexors out there, they were cramping up at the start of the second period, so I guess that’s probably what it is.
“I was seeing the puck well, I was moving well, I had legs, I was tracking the puck, so I’ve got to be happy with that. That was my first real game in a couple months so I’m pretty happy how I felt.”
Wagner crashed the net, along with Brother in Grime Sean Kuraly, and tucked home a loose puck 1:47 into the third, after a Zdeno Chara blast trickled through Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. Walpole Wags drew a tripping penalty on Nikita Kucherov on his next shift, giving the Bruins even more of a lift.
The Bruins snapped the puck around on that power play, and another one minutes later when Tampa’s Barclay Goodrow bonked Anders Bjork with a questionable blindside hit. The B’s couldn’t cash in (0 for 4) and have one PPG in seven tries through two round robin games.
Here are some takeaways from the game:
▪ After a sluggish, stiff start, the Bruins were down, 2-1, after 40 minutes thanks to a Charlie McAvoy goal at 16:43 of the second.
A clean face-off win let Torey Krug send a short dish at the point to McAvoy, who whipped a one-timer from 62 feet past Vasilevskiy’s glove. It was a relief for the B’s, who chased both puck and score for most of the first two periods.
▪ It was a willing trigger pull by McAvoy, whose teammates passed up too many shots in the early going, despite Bruce Cassidy’s hope they would do the opposite. Five minutes in, the puck bounced over Tampa center Anthony Cirelli’s stick in the neutral zone, putting Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork on a 2-on-1. Coyle’s pass to Bjork was sticked away.
▪ Tampa was able to get shots from the outside, and that led to an early double-deflection goal by Brayden Point.
Even without captain Steven Stamkos (leg injury), the Lightning moved the puck with efficiency and skated past a disorganized opponent. The Bruins took a too many men on the ice call that quickly put them down, 2-0. At 10:32 of the first period, just 13 seconds into the power play, Alex Killorn’s skate redirected a point shot that had already changed directions off Sean Kuraly’s stick.
▪ Add that to the Point goal five minutes earlier, when the Lightning, whose buzzsaw forechecking goaded Jeremy Lauzon into a hooking call 43 seconds into the game, jumped on Boston. Tampa had two odd-man rushes on the same shift, both against the Bruins’ top line. Tuukka Rask (17 saves through 40 minutes) couldn’t locate the puck after making an initial stop on a Nikita Kucherov shot. Point had a gimme, poking the puck through the netminder’s pads and off McAvoy’s skate. Zdeno Chara was caught below the goal line.
▪ McAvoy and Chara flubbed the line change on the too many men call, both jumping on while only Krug — and not Brandon Carlo, too — had jumped off.
▪ Krug led the Bruins’ pushback after going down, 2-0. After partner Carlo took a blindside hit from Blake Coleman at his own blueline, Krug dropped the gloves. The Tampa forward, listed two inches taller and 14 pounds heavier than Krug (5-9 ,186), scored the takedown.
Nick Ritchie chopped Anthony Cirelli on the next shift, with no call, and Ritchie stood up on the bench and yelled at Pat Maroon between shifts. With 1:35 left in the first, Point earned four minutes for a facewash-fest with McAvoy, while McAvoy sat for two.
▪ Coleman, who also got into it with Ritchie and Jeremy Lauzon, was one the Bruins’ targets at the trade deadline before Tampa dealt a first-round pick and prospect Cal Foote to New Jersey for the winger. He gave the Bruins a power play 4:37 into the second, tackling Sean Kuraly after the Bruins’ fourth line put together a strong forechecking shift — one of too few in the first 40.
▪ The last Tampa-Boston meeting, March 7 at TD Garden, which saw 94 minutes in penalty calls, including scraps between Chris Wagner and Barclay Goodrow, and Zdeno Chara and Pat Maroon. Chara had fought Maroon four times coming in, more than anyone else but former Panthers enforcer Peter Worrell (six).
▪ The Bruins couldn’t score on that power play, with Matt Grzelcyk running the point in Krug’s absence. A David Pastrnak one-timer leaked through Vasilevskiy and nearly bounced across the goal line, but a Tampa defender saved it. Pastrnak, who was on the ice the whole two minutes, finished his shift by backchecking hard and throwing a shoulder into Yanni Gourde.
▪ Fourth line: big shift, disrupting and bumping and going hard, until Blake Coleman tackled Sean Kuraly and gave the Bruins a power play. David Pastrnak made Vasilevskiy stop his heavy one-timer during a power play that looked good overall, but put nothing on the board.
▪ Goodrow, who missed an open-ice hit on Grzelcyk in the neutral zone, side-swiped Bjork with a forearm to the head after Bjork connected on a one-timer in the slot. Grzelcyk attacked Goodrow, who got two minutes for charging. NHL Player Safety looks at all iffy contact, and this will be under their microscope.