The Bruins look tired. They have a tough schedule, but a lot of teams are playing every other day. They’re not alone in this. It’s not a good excuse.
Gary Bettman is going to hand the Stanley Cup to someone, at some point this summer. If it’s Patrice Bergeron, we’ll be looking back at this stretch and saying it was good they didn’t fall too far during their midseason malaise. We’ll also be toasting Don Sweeney for making some smart deadline moves. (Can’t believe he got Mattias Ekholm for that.)
On a more realistic tip, the hope would be they get healthy, Sweeney adds to the roster without sacrificing too much, and they take advantage of the April-May schedule. Nine of their last 22 games are against the tailspinning Flyers and 6-feet-under Sabres. There’s also a pair in New Jersey, where the sixth-place Devils have lost 14 of 18 (4-11-3).
Answering a few questions in the first edition of the Globe Bruins mailbag (we’ll come up with a good name later).
Questions have been edited for clarity.
Have the Bruins have been fully vaccinated? — Wally Amorin
The question was referring to an Edmonton Journal story from last week that made reference to US-based players “getting vaccinated since early March [and] teams such as the Boston Bruins ... getting fully vaccinated,” while Canadian teams are not.
Our inquiry with the Bruins revealed the opposite. “That’s not accurate,” a team spokesperson wrote. “When players and staff are eligible under Massachusetts state guidelines, our medical staff will be there to assist and support as needed.
What’s up with all these Chris Wagner scratches? — Bruce Rosinoff
Walpole Wags has taken a seat in eight of the last 11 games. He has a 2-2—4 line in 25 games, the same as Sean Kuraly (26 games). The fourth line has been an issue all year.
I see three potential factors with No. 14: He wasn’t super effective when he was in, for whatever reason. The Bruins want to get a look at other players. And it’s not the worst idea to rest him for the stretch run in case he has more to give (and I bet he does).
Wagner at his best is a lumber-laying grinder with a flash of skill. If putting him in the background for a few weeks will help him return at his best, that’s probably fine. He’s signed for two more years after this ($1.35 million per), so they’re not impacting his future contract/earnings potential. Kuraly, on the other hand, is a pending UFA ... probably want to get what you can out of him.
An email from March 28, when Mackenzie Blackwood stopped the Bruins’ comeback with his toe:
I saw a view from inside the net/goal line that shows the puck on its edge on the other side of the goal line, with white showing that it was in the net. The puck is clearly on edge in the goal. — Thomas Hayes
This has come up periodically over the years, including in the playoffs.
It might be easier to think of goal-line reviews this way: Imagine the red stripe extends up toward the ceiling. Would the back edge of the puck be clear of that “wall”? In the case of the goal that went against the Bruins, I don’t believe it would have been.
If a puck is on its edge, it doesn’t matter if the leading edge of the puck completely crosses the line, or if there’s white space between the goal line and the leading edge of the puck, if the back (airborne) part of the puck is still on the line.
NHL vice president of hockey ops Colin Campell once explained it this way: The red line is painted 1½ inches below the ice. You can actually put a puck on the goal line, stand at a distance of about 10 feet, and see white ice underneath the puck — even if it’s on the goal.
This probably won’t be the issue that gets everyone upset come playoff time. It’ll be something else. It always is.
Since they continue to be sloppy and unfocused does that fall on the players? Do you think they have tuned out Cassidy and his staff? Is the roster more lacking in talent than the quick start led us to believe? — Kevin O’Neil
I should note that this came after Thursday’s loss to Pittsburgh.
I think we are seeing fatigue from the compressed schedule affecting young players who are logging regular NHL shifts for the first time. Trent Frederic, Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton are three examples: They brought a spark early, then tailed off over the course of a few weeks. You can blame them if you want for not bringing enough to the table. If you want to blame Don Sweeney for betting on them, go ahead — but if you are committing to drafting and developing players, at some point you probably need to find out what they are as NHLers.
I don’t think the Bruins’ midseason slide is a Bruce Cassidy issue. He does what he can with what he has. Few players have forced his hand in a positive way (I don’t remember the last time he mentioned that he had a “nice problem to have”). If the Bruins were breaking in one or two guys on D, rather than three or four ... if a healthy Rask and Halak were turning in Grade-A performances nightly ... if they could keep DeBrusk-Krejci-Kase together for more than the first two games of the season ... I think we’re looking at the best team in the East. Alas.
Few things have gone as planned this year — for any team.
Can you explain this upcoming NHL playoffs? How are they going to work? — Chris Kelley
Fairly straightforward ... certainly more so than last season’s 24-team playoffs and double-lottery system.
The first two rounds are played in the divisions — 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 — as they used to do in the days of the Adams, Norris, Patrick, and Smythe divisions.
Divisional winners are then re-seeded on regular season point totals (note: this is how they’re doing it for now; if teams wind up with an odd number of games played, like last year, they could move to seeding by points percentage).
So, there will not be an Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference champ. In the “Stanley Cup Semifinals,” it’s 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3.
Which means that we could get something like Boston vs. Toronto for the Cup. Would be fun.