The Boston Bruins have played some tremendous hockey this season, but it hasn’t always felt that way in the days leading into the postseason.
Boston came and went quietly for most of its regular-season finale, falling to the Florida Panthers 4-2 at TD Garden.
Save for the final half of the third period, the Bruins played much of the game like it was meaningless, and many things that they’ve made their calling card — and in turn, the fabric of their success — were absent. They lost puck battles, didn’t play hard in front of the net and struggled to clear their own zone.
Although the game didn’t affect either side getting into the playoffs, it did determine if the Bruins would be crowned the top team in the Eastern Conference. And with the loss, they now will be tasked with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Does the B’s season hinge on how they performed Sunday? Absolutely not, but the loss did mark the continuation of some concerning trends heading into Thursday’s Game 1 at TD Garden.
In the last week they’ve lost four of their five games, including getting their doors blown off by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Quite possibly the biggest cause for concern is that Toronto highlights what the Bruins have struggled with: coming out hot. The Leafs are tied for the best first-period goal differential at plus-25 (scoring 91 first-period goals), and it’s no secret the Bruins have had their struggles with conceding the first goal and playing catch-up the rest of the game.
“It’s crept into our game here (the) second half of the season. We’ve been able to overcome it a lot of nights because we bounce back, we’re resilient,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game, as seen on NESN’s Bruins postgame coverage. “But we’ve got to be on time. Part of that obviously, the coach prepares the players to play and the players have got to be ready to go. They’ve got to be mentally into the game because physically I think we’re fine. We’re like a lot of other teams: deep into the year you just get a little heavy-legged. But everyone’s the same in that regard, so we’re going to talk about it.
“Let’s hope that with the playoffs a new excitement is there, the passion is back in our game, because we lacked that early (Sunday) and I think it cost us the game. We end up chasing the game, and a lot of it had to do with our first period.”
This is not to say anyone should be sounding the alarms, the Bruins are a well-rounded, legitimate Cup contender that should do some damage in the East. But the Leafs won’t be a cakewalk, and the Bruins are going to need to refocus before the puck drops.
While Sunday wasn’t a great way to close out the regular season, Cassidy still knows what his team is capable of.
“At the end of the day, the way I look at it with our group: we’re a 50-win team, one game is not going to define us,” Cassidy said. “It is disappointing. I don’t think we’re going to get over it in the next hour, I’m not. But at the end of the day, we have a bigger task at hand. We’ve got to play Toronto, we do have home-ice advantage at least through the first round, and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”
Here are some other notes from Bruins-Panthers:
— Boston begins it’s postseason at The Garden at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday. You can see the B’s full first-round schedule here.
— The Bruins finished the season conceding the third-fewest goals in the NHL at 214. They only trailed the Los Angeles Kings (203) and the Nashville Predators (211).
— Brad Marchand finished the year as Boston’s highest scorer with 85 points (34-51-85), which was good for 13th in the NHL.
— Marchand (85), David Pastrnak (80), Patrice Bergeron (63) and Torey Krug (59) all finished above 50 points for the Bruins this season. Another four tallied at least 40 points.