Bruce Cassidy was pleased that none of his players got hurt on Sunday in Game No. 82.
He was not satisfied with anything else.
“We’re going to try to take the positives,” the Bruins coach said following the 4-2 loss to Florida. “I just don’t do a very good job of it five minutes after the game’s over. It [stinks] when you lose, when you have an opportunity right in front of you, and you let it get away. But at the end of the day, we’ll look at it, we’ll try to take the positives, and be ready for Toronto.”
The Bruins are competitive. They really wanted to beat the out-of-it Panthers, climb over Tampa Bay, claim the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and play New Jersey in the first round. A win would have allowed the Bruins not just to stick out their chests heading into the playoffs, but set themselves up for a better chance to advance past the opening round.
They were not feeling good about anything following Sunday’s dud.
They were fast asleep for the first 40 minutes. They did not defend well in front of Tuukka Rask. They allowed castaway Frank Vatrano, of all players, to score a goal and an assist to give his new club two points they had no business taking.
The Bruins were satisfied that they jolted themselves to life in the third period, aided by the Jonathan Huberdeau stick that slammed into Zdeno Chara’s nose.
But the legless Bruins did not have anything else to take pride in after a loss that should have been something else. By the time they woke up, it was too late.
“I feel we’ll be a lot better than we were today,” Cassidy said. “We better be. Or we’re in big trouble. I just felt that coming down the stretch here, you could start to see us mentally get tired. Physically, every team goes through it with the schedule. Every team has difficult parts of it. At the end of the year, you’re a little heavy-legged. Mentally, it looked like we were losing some of our passion. That showed in the first period.”
The Bruins should have concluded the regular season with smiles on their faces. Attaboys are deserved for a team that racked up 112 points, seemingly locked up a playoff position by Valentine’s Day, and played with passion and purpose.
Their accomplishments are somewhat muted, however, given their late-season gurgle. The Bruins closed out the regular season with a 1-3-1 April — very disappointing given the 11-2-3 muscle-flexing they performed the previous month.
The punishing schedule of March likely took the juice of the Bruins’ legs in the last five games. They endured 16 games over 31 days last month, some of it without Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Rick Nash, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, and Torey Krug.
In retrospect, the grinding schedule and the added demands on healthy players took their tolls on the Bruins. It showed in the last five games, all substandard when measured by both the eye and result tests.
The Bruins that tailspinned at the end of the regular season were not the same players that kicked sand in opponents’ faces for most of the year. They were tired and listless, missing the sizzle in their legs as well as the engagement between their ears. When levels are lacking in those areas, even teams like the Panthers can pocket four points that otherwise should have been in the Bruins’ column.
The Bruins do not have much time to take a breath before Game 1 against Toronto on Thursday at TD Garden. Cassidy has given his players Monday off. He might be best served giving them a breather the next day as well. The Bruins ran out of gas at the wrong time. They cannot afford to be at less than full tanks come Thursday.
“They need to rest, first of all, both physically and mentally,” Cassidy said. “We’ll see what we’re going to do on the ice on Tuesday. I think Wednesday needs to be good, crisp — address areas of concern. It’s not a switch. But some of it is the guys understanding where we’re getting beat, and starting. I think starting on time is mental. So that’s the part they’ve got to be prepared to do.”
Because of Sunday’s loss, the Bruins will facing a battle-ready Frederik Andersen in the Toronto net instead of undrafted free agent Keith Kinkaid in New Jersey’s cage. The Bruins went 1-2-1 against Toronto this year. The Maple Leafs’ speed gives them trouble.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander will lead the baby-faced brigade. Toronto has experience, skill, and hardness in Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Patrick Marleau, and Leo Komarov. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner can move the puck. The Leafs will not be an easy opponent for the Bruins to face.
The Bruins need a reboot. Monday’s day away from the ice will serve them well. A light day on Tuesday should help, too. By Wednesday, when their legs have recovered, they will be ready for a brisk and productive session.
But by now, practice is a secondary concern. Energy is most important. The Bruins didn’t have enough of it on Sunday. They can afford no such scarcity of that precious resource come Thursday.