WASHINGTON DC – Earlier in the season a blown third period lead on the road to the Washington Capitals would, and did, send off warning signals that something was amiss with the Boston Bruins.
Blowing their eighth third period lead of the season in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Caps at the Verizon Center is still nothing to write home about it, but the Black and Gold are on to bigger things at this point.
The Bruins need to dust themselves off and get ready for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night with their marching orders pretty clearly spelled out: if they win in regulation they’ll host the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, if they win in the extra session via shootout/overtime they’ll host the Ottawa Senators and if they lose in any fashion they’ll drop to the No. 4 seed hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins made clear, following Saturday’s tough loss to a surging Capitals bunch, that they’ll still be going full speed ahead for a Sunday win that will net them the Northeast Division.
“Hopefully [Saturday] is the last time we have to learn this lesson about giving up the lead going into the third period,” said Milan Lucic, who potted the game’s first goal in the first period. “But there is a lot to look forward to tomorrow. We control our own destiny to fight for first in the division.”
It would have been easier, of course, if the Bruins could have wrapped things up on Saturday with a combination of a B’s win/Montreal loss, but once again Boston will have to do things the hard way. Claude Julien said the Bruins will “play to win” on Sunday, and that would indicate that both Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara will be in the lineup after both topping 29 minutes of ice time against Washington.
One positive development: it sounds like the Bruins postseason opener could be pushed back to Thursday with Saturday for Game 2, and that would give the Bruins a few days to rest, recover and recharge their batteries for what’s hoped to be a long playoff run this season.
“If you want to know what our thoughts are, we still want to win the division,” said Claude Julien. “We’re going to play to win tomorrow…no ifs or buts about it.”
All three potential opponents bring their own version of headaches and potential match-ups that might favor the Black and Gold.
* The Toronto Maple Leafs have been dominated by the Bruins for long stretches over the last few years. Boston has won nine of their last 10 games against the Leafs, and had won eight in a row until Boston dropped a game at the Air Canada Centre earlier this season when Anton Khudobin was pulled in the third period. Old friend Phil Kessel has only three goals and is a minus-22 in 22 games against his former Bruins team, and is a shell of himself when he shares the ice against Zdeno Chara. Similarly, Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf has only two points and a minus-2 in 10 games against the Bruins over the last two seasons, and has been continually exploited by Boston’s best offensive players. Toronto is certainly looked at as a favorable matchup for the B’s given their questionable defense and average goaltending situation, but there is also the circus factor in Toronto. The media crush and attention on Toronto’s first entry into the playoffs since 2004 would place a big microscope on both teams in the series, and would raise the stress level considerably. That’s not the kind of drama-filled first round that the Black and Gold are looking for.
* The New York Islanders are 11-2-4 in their last 17 games, and were forced to keep winning games simply to get their playoff ticket punched. The Bruins got a look at the Isles up close and personal, and saw a young, talented team that’s gelling together and getting solid goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov. Josh Bailey scored two goals in that 2-1 victory two weeks ago, but John Tavares and Matt Moulson are as good a scoring duo as exists in the NHL these days. New York is young, fast and full of energy, but they can also be exploited with some questionable depth and strength among their defensemen corps. There’s also the vast amount of inexperience up and down the Isles’ lineup that a seasoned team like the B’s can taste success against. Mark Streit is a talented puck-moving defensemen and power play quarterback, but he’s also a liability when pinned down into his own end. Streit is a team-worst minus-14 and the Islanders only have four players with a positive plus/minus rating that have logged more than 20 games played this season. So it’s another team that the Bruins forwards could enjoy some success against. New York is ranked 21st in the NHL while allowing 2.8 goals per game and has allowed on a high-powered offense to get them through the season. That’s a formula that can be a little problematic once things turn to the postseason.
* The Ottawa Senators haven’t beaten the Bruins at their Scotiabank Place home since April 7, 2009, and the Bruins have won 13-of-14 games overall against the Senators dating back over the last three years. So there is a long history of the Bruins lording dominance over the Senators with Ottawa’s defense not having a whole lot of success against Boston. But so much of the long winning streak against Ottawa involved masterful performances from Tim Thomas, and transpired before the Senators built themselves back up into a playoff caliber club. It’s dangerous going into a playoff series with a team like the Sens, who are playing with a bit of a wounded animal mentality after suffering so many injuries this season. Erik Karlsson is back healthy and he’s a huge difference-maker that could sink another team with his offensive gifts. Sure it would be fun to have former Sens players like Chris Kelly, Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden go to battle with Ottawa alongside their former assistant general manager Peter Chiarelli. But players like Karlsson, Chris Neil and youngsters like Jakob Silfverberg and Jared Cowan will be inspired to win one for Daniel Alfredsson, and they have the talent level to match up with a Black and Gold team that’s struggled this season.
There are no easy answers for the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, but in the end they might be best served taking their chances against a young, talented, raw Isles group that’s got virtually no concept of what Stanley Cup playoff hockey is all about. But Boston can’t steer things as much they’d like, and can just go out and win their final regular season game while letting things happen.