The Boston Bruins aren’t hanging their heads.
The Bruins missed out on an opportunity to win the Atlantic Division and secure the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed Sunday night when they suffered a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers at TD Garden. It was Boston’s third loss in its last five games (second in regulation), but the late-season hiccups have done little to rattle Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, who expressed total confidence in his club ahead of its first-round playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Well, we won 50 games, and I think the body of work speaks that this team deserves to be where we are, and we focus on Thursday night,” Sweeney told reporters Monday. “I think every team would recognize that they have areas that they want to clean up. We just want to be playing our best hockey Thursday night. And, the schedule has probably presented some challenges, but for the most part, the whole schedule all throughout the year has presented a lot of challenges for our hockey club, and they’ve risen to meet each and every one of them for the most part. I think the body of work, as I said, speaks for itself, so they’ll be ready to go.”
The Bruins will host Games 1 and 2 against the Maple Leafs on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, before traveling to Toronto for Games 3 and 4. The Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, will square off with the New Jersey Devils in the first round after edging out the Bruins for the division title and the conference’s top seed.
The Leafs (105 points) seemingly pose a bigger playoff threat than the Devils (97 points), especially with Boston posting a 1-2-1 record against Toronto during the regular season compared to a 3-0 record against New Jersey. But the Bruins (112 points) went 50-20-12 over their 82-game journey and have been a force since mid-November. Don’t expect anyone in Boston’s dressing room to dwell on Sunday’s loss to Florida or skate away from the challenge that awaits. Sweeney certainly isn’t.
“We always felt March was the daunting part of the schedule unfortunately,” the Bruins GM said. “We were in a pretty good position, but we were still pushing forward. That’s the type of team that we had. They wanted to win, we had the chance right up until the final bell to try to keep climbing the standings and meet every challenge. We fell short in that regard, but I think they’re ready to look forward and hopefully they’ll play their best hockey, because that’s what it’s going to take.
“The league itself — the parity, the races, the amount of points it takes just to get in — it’s a grind. You start the year and realize you have to make 100 points, close to 100 points to make the playoffs now. It’s a difficult task. You run through the injuries that we’ve had, the depth question was asked earlier. Part of that was March. We knew what we were going to go through. And players deserve an awful lot of credit, coaches deserve a lot of credit. Now hopefully as I said, we have to play our best hockey.”
So far, the Bruins have admirably responded to adversity, overcoming a slow start and a myriad of injuries to cement themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Now, the slate is wiped clean, and none of this season’s developments — good or bad — will determine the Bruins’ postseason fate.
“It’s a successful regular season, but now we’ll be judged on how we do going forward and hopefully the players will — it’s not about a reset, it’s really about tightening up what they do and the coaches will address some of the areas that probably haven’t been as tight as they would like to be going in,” Sweeney said. “You have to be playing your best hockey. You don’t win if you’re not playing your best hockey this time of year. Every team that is here deserves to be here and they want to win. If you’re not playing your best, you’re not going to win.”
It’s winning time. Let the real fun begin.
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