BOSTON – The good news is that the Bruins finally found their special something against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.
“We obviously know the implications of winning and losing, so it was good to obviously have the start that we did – with [the Red Wings] traveling and everything it was, I think, crucial to our success to get out there and get the first one and push them back a bit,” said Torey Krug. “Overall it was a really good team win. We’re in a position where we can continue to live, and hopefully we get some more help.”
The bad news is that it took until they were shoved into a corner to find that little bit extra in a solid, wall-to-wall 5-2 victory at TD Garden.
Because of that, their fate remains out of their hands at the end of the season for the second straight year strictly based on a couple of different things: the first was the 2-1 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this week for which there is zero excuse for from a B’s team that considered themselves playoff material and the other was the last-second goal scored by Wayne Simmonds to net the Flyers an all-important point in their overtime loss to the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Had the Flyers lost in regulation to the lowly Leafs, then the Bruins would have regained control of their flickering fate and could have clinched a playoff spot with a win Saturday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators.
That didn’t happen and the Bruins were left to wonder how things could have been different had they taken care of Black and Gold business in many of the previous 10 games, of which they lost an unforgivable seven in regulation.
“You know, guys, every team, almost every team in this league goes through a slump at one point in the season, and unfortunately for us we hadn’t until this last month. That’s what’s really gotten us in trouble and it’s unfortunate,” said Claude Julien. “But again you can look in the rearview mirror or you can focus on Saturday, and that’s the best thing to do right now is focus on Saturday.
“[Scoreboard watching] is just the way it is. I said it before and I’m not going to change my tune here, we created that situation and we got to live with it and take care of business the best we can here. We still continue and hope for some breaks here.”
Instead the B’s must win against Ottawa, and hope that A) the Red Wings either lose or win only in the shootout against a New York Rangers that seems very interested in being the top wild card entry into the playoffs or B) the Flyers lose one of their two remaining games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders. There’s still a chance because both Detroit and Philly haven’t been the same red-hot phenomenon that the Senators were down the stretch last season and the Flyers will need to finish strong with a grueling four games played in five days.
So, while Bruins players, management and coaches can have their fingers crossed either Detroit or Philly chokes with their playoff lives on the line, the truth is the Bruins don’t fully deserve the playoffs based on their 10-game stretch of losing in March and April. The B’s understandably weren’t ready to flog themselves after a big, emotional win over the Red Wings, but they were asked time and time again “Where was this effort?” in a winning dressing room.
The shutdown defense limited the Red Wings to 15 shots on net, and really suffocated Detroit in the final 40 minutes of the game once Boston had taken a commanding 3-0 lead. The power play kicked in a huge goal in the second period with Torey Krug snapping an epically frustrating 54-game goal-scoring slump and came through after a long period of erratic production over the last few months.
It also makes one wonder what exactly took so long for the Bruins to call up youngsters Frank Vatrano and Colin Miller, who were both featured performers in the do-or-die game after weeks of massive production at the AHL level. Or why experienced, big-game guy Max Talbot is suddenly in the Bruins lineup centering the third line after being busted down to Providence directly after the NHL trade deadline.
Could those players have helped the Bruins playing over Jimmy Hayes, Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman, who were all watching the win over Detroit from popcorn alley in the TD Garden press box?
Those are the kind of second-guesses that definitely won’t be answered now, and probably won’t be fully acknowledged if it ends disappointingly for the Black and Gold.
“We’re in the situation we’re in and we can’t look at what could have been or what would have been,” said Brad Marchand. “It’s all about where we are right now and all we can do is prepare for the next one.
“You definitely need [the killer instinct] at this time of the year and it's good that we were able to step up and show that [against the Red Wings]. It’s something that we’re going to need next game.”
Boston’s situation should tell anybody that the losses, particularly the lifeless defeat to Carolina where Marchand was left on the bench for the shootout and Tuukka Rask was outplayed by Cam Ward, loom much larger than what should have been a win over Detroit to secure their playoff life. That kind of inconsistency is a killer down the stretch, and has become a troubling pattern for a Black and Gold team that’s shown alarming fragility over the past three seasons.
It certainly feels like the B’s will harbor major regrets they couldn’t summon that kind of performance against Carolina, or in the pointless back-to-back games against the Rangers and Panthers coming out of the California trip. Or in any number of lifeless home games earlier in the season that could have made the difference for a team that might not qualify for the playoffs despite a chance to reach 95 points with a win over Ottawa Saturday afternoon.
It might also cost Julien his gig coaching the Bruins, after a mostly excellent nine-year run, if they miss the playoff cut two years in a row.
It will be a shame for every hockey fan in New England if they miss out on the Stanley Cup playoffs because the Bruins fell one point short. It will also be awfully difficult to believe the B’s players, coaches and management have learned any lessons when all of this is over because they’ll simply be once again repeating the same exact, mind-numbing mistakes that doomed them at this time a year ago.