It’s not easy to analyze the Boston Bruins right now.
The B’s have clinched just about everything there is to clinch in the NHL’s regular season, and after Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, there are just three games left to play. Boston has started to enter shut-down mode, resting three regulars in St. Paul and shortening the bench as it sat down another player early in the third period as a precaution.
Essentially, the Bruins are playing a preseason for the postseason. So there are things that can be worked on and areas to be addressed, and the Bruins were able to accomplish each of those, despite the loss to the Wild.
Here are some of the encouraging signs from the shootout loss.
Reilly Smith snapped a 10-game goal-less drought with a power-play strike in the first period. That goal came with a stroke of luck as Smith’s shot from the high slot deflected twice before getting past Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. But maybe that’s exactly what Smith needs right now. It’s just his second goal in his last 26 games. Getting him going should be a big focus in the final games of the season.
The Bruins’ power play scored two of the team’s three goals. Boston was going with makeshift power-play units, as two of the team’s PP1 skaters were in the press box as scratches. Regardless, the B’s altered top unit was able to find the back of the net twice. The first was Smith’s goal, which was a solid answer to an early Minnesota goal, as Smith’s tally came 1:55 after Jason Pominville opened the scoring at the 1:05 mark. The second goal was especially impressive. Zdeno Chara did some nifty stickwork at the blue line to get free, where he flipped a wrist shot on goal. That was deflected by Gregory Campbell and Loui Eriksson before it got by Bryzgalov. It was interesting to see Campbell getting some power-play time up front. He spends a good deal of practice time working in front of the net, and his work on deflecting pucks showed Tuesday.
Boston was able to rest some key players, which is the most important thing about this final week of the regular season. If you take head coach Claude Julien at his word about Kevan Miller and Jarome Iginla, it certainly sounds like there’s not a lot to worry about. Resting David Krejci makes sense, too. He had played in all 78 games entering Tuesday and had been battling some illness as of late. Expect more of the same from the Bruins when it comes to other regulars over the final three games.
Tuukka Rask was absolutely sensational in overtime. He ended up stopping all six Wild shots, which almost equaled the nine shots the Bruins allowed in the second and third periods combined. Rask made a tremendous sprawling save on Matt Moulson in front and also gloved Pominville’s one-timer from the left wing. Rask allowed just the one goal in the shootout as well. After a somewhat uneven performance in regulation — three goals on just 18 shots — and allowing a goal with 1:05 to play in the third, Rask came alive in the extra time.
If the Bruins really are interested in winning the Presidents’ Trophy, they took a step forward in that race as well. The Blues lost to the Capitals, which allowed the Bruins to build on their lead over the St. Louis Blues with the shootout-loss point. It’s also worth noting that the Blues have lost three in a row and are slumping toward the finish line.
There won’t be shootouts in the playoffs, which also is good news, considering the Bruins are just 3-5 in the skills competition.
The playoffs are just about a week away, which probably is the biggest positive of all.