NEWARK — The start date remains a mystery, and their opponent is TBD, but the Bruins secured a Stanley Cup playoff berth for a fifth year in a row Monday night with their 3-0 win here over the Devils at the Prudential Center.
Nick Ritchie , Patrice Bergeron and Matt Grzelcyk paced the triumph with a goal apiece and Tuukka Rask, who faced a feather-light workload of 20 shots, recorded his 52nd career shutout.
It also was Rask’s 305th career win, tying him at No. 32 on the all-time list with Battlin’ Billy Smith, the fiery, ill-tempered tender who backed the Islanders to their four consecutive Cups, 1980-83.
The win meant the Rangers, the only other club in the NHL East with a prayer of reaching the playoffs, once again finished out of the Cup tournament. The Capitals dealt the Blueshirts a 6-3 pasting in what turned out to be their Elimination Monday.
The Bruins will be making their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs since Bruce Cassidy took charge of their bench in February 2017. He improved his career regular-season mark to 192-80-40, .679 since taking charge of the Jacobs juggernaut.
“What I told the guys, first of all was congratulations,” said Cassidy. “Our expectations, obviously, are higher than to just make the playoffs, but it’s still an accomplishment in this league. It’s not automatic. Ask Philadelphia. They had a really good last year and won’t be in this year. Dallas is fighting for their life — went to the final last year and I’m sure thought they’d be in a better position than they are now.”
First and foremost, Cassidy said he told his charges, “Let’s keep building.”
The Bruins, who slipped ahead of the Islanders to No. 3 in the East, will enter the playoff mix with the Capitals, Penguins and Islanders.
They still have five games left in the pandemic-shortened 56-game regular season, including Tuesday night’s rematch here with the Devils. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be played within the league’s four respective divisions. Each division winner then will be ranked, 1-4, for the start of the Cup semifinal round, seeding determined by points earned during the regular seasons.
As the clock struck midnight, the Bruins would have opened the playoffs in Pittsburgh in a best-of-seven series vs. the Penguins. But there are still a few midnights to go before the final order is known.
The Bruins (31-14-6) are now 10-2-0 in the dozen games since adding Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly at the April 12 trade deadline. None of those three factored in the clinching math on Monday. But the big line, centered by Bergeron, finished 1-3—4 and now stands 15-21—36 since over the last dozen games.
Once the playoffs begin, the Bruins will be pursuing their seventh Cup title in franchise history. Their win in 2011 was their first since 1972, the high point of the legendary Big Bad Bruins era.
“We know we’re a great team,” said Bergeron, wrapping up his first year as team captain. “I like where we’re at, and I know we can keep improving . . . make sure we are ready for Game 1 of the playoffs.”
The Bruins all but had the seed-to-be-name later guaranteed by the end of 40 minutes, their lead at 2-0, and the Devils with only 9 shots landed on Rask. It’s going to be a long rebuild for the former Trappist Wonks, whose glorious Cup years backed by Martin Brodeur are a faded memory.
Ritchie’s goal broke the scoreless tie 9:08 into the second, set up by Jakub Zboril. Ritchie opted for a quick one-time snap instead of a slapper, and his shot beat goalie Scott Wedgewood the short side, roughly halfway up the right post.
It was Ritchie’s 14th goal this season, matching his career high with the Ducks. The Bruins had Ritchie pegged higher in the order when they acquired him at February 2020 trade deadline, but he seems to have found a home on a heavy man’s third line with Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle. It’s a 656-pound Here’s-the-Beef threesome.
The ever-efficient Bergeron knocked home his 20th of the season with 2:06 remaining in the second and Grzelcyk popped in the third, his fifth of the season, with 2:43 to play.
The Devils did not put a shot on Rask — fired from the neutral zone — until Connor Carrick sent in a long-ranger wrister at 8:26 of the first., by which time the Bruins already had landed 11 shots.
The Bruins continued to build on the shot disparity in the second period and owned a 37-9 advantage at the 40:00 mark. They also had a 50-21 edge in shot attempts.
“Being around for so many years,” mused Bergeron, “you have a better understanding of just how hard it is to make it. Especially, I know it’s cliché, but the parity is really there — our division is definitely not easy.
“Some great teams were pushing us — the Rangers, and Philly. So it was a challenge. The goal is always to make it . . . so we’re really proud we did that today.”