BOSTON — The Boston Bruins don’t yet know which team they’ll face in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, but it can only be the Washington Capitals or Ottawa Senators.
“We’re going to be confident no matter who we play,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Caps at TD Garden. “In a nutshell, Washington is the better team. I would go on record saying that. Ottawa is playing very good hockey right now. We’ve had a tough time with them. So, they both present their challenges.
“Staying in the (Atlantic Division), people have said, probably is an easier path, so in that regard, you don’t want to be the wild card. It’s out of our hands. We’ll get what we get.”
Boston’s opponent will be determined by how many points the Toronto Maple Leafs earn in their final two regular-season games — Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sunday versus the Columbus Blue Jackets.
If Toronto picks up three or more points, it will overtake Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division and play Ottawa in Round 1, leaving the B’s to play the Capitals as the second wild-card team. If the Leafs get two points or fewer, the Bruins would finish third in the division and play the Senators.
Washington proved Saturday that it’s a bad matchup for Boston. The Capitals have a deep, talented squad that includes four lines capable of scoring and a defensive corps versatile enough to play an uptempo game or a slower, more physical contest.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who rested Saturday, owns an 11-2-0 record and a .945 save percentage in his career versus the Bruins. The Caps also have won nine of the last 10 meetings with the B’s.
“They’re a good hockey club,” Cassidy said of the Caps. “They don’t have a lot of weaknesses, and you’ve got to be on your A-game, and we didn’t have our A-game (Saturday afternoon).”
The Bruins didn’t beat the Senators this season, but Ottawa gives up a lot of puck possession with its neutral zone scheme. Bruins-Sens likely would be a close series — the last two regular-season meetings were decided by a single goal. The Caps, however, are a juggernaut and could eliminate the B’s in short order if Boston doesn’t play its best hockey. It’s ideal for the B’s to avoid them, but it’s out of their control.
Here are some other notes from Saturday.
–Regular-season Bruins awards were handed out before puck drop. Here’s a recap of the winners.
Eddie Shore Award (exceptional hustle and determination)
Elizabeth Dufresne Award (most outstanding player in home games)
John P. Bucyk Award (greatest off-ice charitable contributions)
98.5 The Sports Hub 3 Stars (contributed most to the team’s success at home)
3. Brad Marchand 2. Patrice Bergeron 1. Tuukka Rask
–Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo exited the game in the first period after being hit hard along the corner boards by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Cassidy didn’t provide any more details on Carlo’s condition after the game, but he thought the lack of a penalty on the play “was wrong.”
Carlo’s injury and Torey Krug’s lower body injury that kept him out of Saturday’s action has the Bruins lacking depth on the blue line. Boston finished Saturday’s regular-season finale with just five healthy defensemen.
–Bruins prospect and former Boston University center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson made his NHL debut and logged 8:25 of ice time. It took a little while for the 2015 second-round draft pick to transition to the pro game.
“It’s a lot faster. You have less time with the puck,” Forsbacka Karlsson said. “Guys are stronger, faster. It’s a little bit of an adjustment.”
— Marcus Johansson’s first-period goal resulted in Boston’s first deficit since March 25 versus the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. That’s a span of 418 minutes and 40 seconds.
–The Bruins’ streak of five straight games with a power-play goal ended, as they went 0-for-2 with the man advantage. Boston’s penalty kill, which entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in the NHL at 85.4 percent, shut down Washington’s vaunted power play on all four of its attempts.
–Drew Stafford’s assist on Colin Miller’s second-period goal was the veteran forward’s 400th career NHL point.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images