By the time the last fans had made their way out of the building Saturday, the thick blue lettering already had been laid on the TD Garden ice: “Stanley Cup playoffs.” With it was the image of the trophy that the Bruins are seeking this season, the one with far more importance than the one they already have captured.
The one already taken is the Presidents’ Trophy, which the Bruins locked up with their 4-1 win over the Sabres, giving them home-ice advantage throughout the postseason.
It is a trophy that has had a checkered past where the Stanley Cup is concerned but which came through for the Blackhawks last season. This season marks the second time since 1985-86 (the first year of the trophy) that the Bruins have won it, also taking it in 1989-90.
As David Krejci said, “It is a nice achievement, that’s for sure. But that wasn’t our goal going into the season.”
It’s still not their goal.
For now, though, the Bruins’ only goal was to right their play, which had suffered through the two-game trip through Minnesota and Winnipeg, and to come out of the game healthy. They did, at least, accomplish the first part.
“Even though, as always, there are always things we can improve and be better, but, for the most part, I thought we played more like us,” Zdeno Chara said. “We need to continue to play that way, obviously, [Sunday in New Jersey] and get ready for the playoffs. We realize that the last few games were not quite the game that we like to see and like to play, so we wanted to make sure that today we played a much better game.”
The Bruins had seen two late leads vanish last week, losing both road games in the shootout. That play wasn’t evident Saturday, though, with the Bruins going up by two goals in the first period and Buffalo never really challenging. Krejci got two goals, and Patrice Bergeron added his 30th of the season, and there was an uptick defensively.
“We were pretty reckless with the puck the last couple games, and that’s not something our team wants in our identity,” Torey Krug said. “So, moving forward, we’re going to keep trying to fix that and make sure we stay on top of it.”
But it was a game, too, that was notable for the way it devolved. There were challenges by John Scott to Milan Lucic and Chara. There was a hit by Jake McCabe that left Daniel Paille wobbling off after appearing to hit his head on the ice. There was a collision between Krug and Matt Hackett that caused the Sabres goalie to be taken off on a stretcher. Misconducts were handed out to Scott and Chara, along with McCabe, all in the third period.
It wasn’t what they wanted, not in Game No. 81. But there was also the acknowledgment that they still had to play the same way they had all along. As Tuukka Rask said, “You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to play hard. If you start watching your steps, then you’re going to get hurt 100 percent. Sometimes it’s just bad luck.”
The Bruins got two goals in the first period, one by Gregory Campbell on a tip-in of a feed from Jordan Caron (16:54) and one by Krejci on a clean-up of a Chara shot that bounced off the glass (18:23). That was more than enough, but they added two more for insurance.
Bergeron scored at 11:43 of the second and, after Cody Hodgson got one back for the Sabres at 13:58 in the period, Krejci got his second at 10:35 of the third on the power play.
That was enough for the Bruins, enough to take the win, enough to make the final game of the season meaningless. As Rask admitted, “I’ve already been thinking about [the playoffs] for a week now, at least.”
Now, after all 41 games at the Garden have been completed, the building reflects that, too.
“After tomorrow, everything is going to start from zero,” said Chara, whose team will face the Red Wings in the first round. “It’s something that we certainly are proud of, if you want to say that. We worked really hard this season and we wanted to play as best as we could and I think we accomplished that.
“But after tomorrow it’s going to go back to square one.”
Just because they won the trophy, just because they finished the regular season with the best record, that means little when the playoffs begin this week. As Chara added, “It’s going to be, I think, even tougher.”
So they move on, to one final game, and to the goal that they’ve really wanted all along.
“The Presidents’ Trophy identifies a team who’s been good for the regular season,” coach Claude Julien said. “It also guarantees home ice as long as you’re in the playoffs. So, those are two things we’re really proud of, but that’s where it stops. The next step is we’ve still got to do some work here in order to get the trophy that we all really want.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.