Now Bruins wait and see if they'll play Capitals or Senators in first round


Now Bruins wait and see if they'll play Capitals or Senators in first round

BOSTON – It will go down to the final day of the NHL regular season before the Boston Bruins know which team they’ll be facing in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s down to just two candidates at this point with the Bruins starting on the road next week in either Ottawa or Washington following Boston’s 3-1 loss to the Capitals in the regular season finale on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. If the Maple Leafs earn just a single point in their final game on Sunday vs. Columbus, then the Bruins will square off against the top-ranked Caps as the second wild card team. If Toronto falls to the Blue Jackets in regulation on Sunday after Saturday’s emotional comeback win over the Penguins, then the B’s will secure the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division and a first round showdown with Senators.

Both first round opponents would be problematic for the B’s based on recent history: The Bruins lost all four regular season matches with Ottawa this season, and sport a 2-9-5 record in their last 16 games vs. the Capitals that’s basically been one-sided domination for the last five years.

“They’re President's Trophy winners. They’ve had the best regular season now, two years in a row,” said David Backes of the Capitals. “They’ve earned it. But you erase all of the regular season statistics and stats and all of that, and you’ve got to win four before the other team does. That needs to be our mentality whether we’re in Washington or Ottawa – I believe that’s our only two choices.

“So whoever it is, we need to erase our minds and get a game plan in there that’s going to work against whoever we’re playing. Then we go execute it and just play harder than the guy across from you. The way this team has played down the stretch here and had to work our butts off to get in, I love our group and we’re going to have a few days here to prep and get it together and then go out there and play.”

Just like Backes, one would expect the other Bruins to be equally reverential of both teams while waiting to see what the hockey gods bring them next week.

That was absolutely the case across the board for a Bruins squad happy to be in the playoffs, but B’s interim head coach Bruce Cassidy did admit the scenario involving a switch to the Metro Division playoff bracket would be challenging for his group.

“We’re going to be confident no matter who we play. In a nutshell, Washington is the better team, I would say that, go on record saying that. Ottawa is playing very good hockey right now and we’ve had a tough time with them,” said Cassidy. “So they both present their challenges. Staying in probably the [Atlantic Division], people have said is probably the easier path. In that regard you don’t want to be the wildcard, but we’re going to end up now – it’s out of our hands. So, we get what we get.”

Clearly it’s not talking out of school for Cassidy to shower praise on a President’s Trophy-winning group like the Capitals that has effectively pulled away from the pack.

Everybody knows they are big, strong, fast, skilled and tough with a deep lineup of star-level players at the NHL level, and that they’re best scorer (Alex Ovechkin) is also a massive, hard-hitting superstar with plenty still left to prove in the postseason.

In other words, the top dog Capitals would be a tough match-up for the Bruins at every level of the game while Boston sits and waits knowing they’re going to be an underdog in whatever series they end up playing. 

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

AP Photo

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

GOLD STAR: Every once in a while Brad Marchand wills the Bruins to a win that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had, and that happened again on Friday night with a three-point explosion for No. 63 in the final 20 minutes. Marchand finished with a goal and three points in 19:57 of ice time along with a plus-2 rating, and played a key role in the three-goal outburst that allowed the B’s to vanquish a 2-0 deficit. It was Marchand that opted not to shoot from the face-off dot with a look at the net in the closing seconds, and instead dropped it down low to David Pastrnak as he curled around the net and pushed a puck past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Marchand finished with two shots on net, eight total shot attempts and a number of big plays in the third period redirecting pucks in close, kicking off shorthanded scoring plays and then setting up clutch game-winners in the final 15 seconds of the game. It’s the kind of night where Marchand played like an MVP even if he isn’t going to get much of a sniff at the Hart Trophy. 

BLACK EYE: Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal for the Dallas Stars, but he also jumped up in the air and clobbered Brad Marchand from behind with a completely unnecessary hit in the third period that went without a penalty being called. Instead it seemed to incense Marchand, who never gave up in the final sequence and ultimately fed a pass to David Pastrnak down low for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining in the game. Benn finished a minus-2 for Dallas while being on the ice for a pair of goals against, had a brutal 1-for-7 performance in the face-off dot and really acted like a punk on the play with Marchand in the third period. Benn is a better player than that and shouldn’t be resorting that level on a fellow star player like Marchand. 

TURNING POINT: Once again the Bruins really turned things around in the third period while outscoring the Stars by a 3-0 margin, and really flooding the Dallas net with 10 of their 36 shots on net for the night. It all started with a relentless shift from Boston’s top line where Riley Nash made a pass from his knees before taking a big hit, and then Brad Marchand redirected a David Pastrnak shot from the slot off his leg and into the net for Boston’s first goal. That first score finally allowed the Bruins to begin building some momentum, score each of the next two goals as the game slipped away from Dallas and once again proved themselves as a hockey club that one doesn’t ever doubt in the third period. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Tuukka Rask had a career-high 40 saves and turned away some really good looks from the Dallas offense while showing exactly what the Bruins can be capable of when their goaltending is on point. The only goals that beat Rask were a first period score with droves of traffic in front of the net, and a second period shorthanded score for Jamie Benn where he pulled one of those unconventional finishing moves on Rask at the very end. Rask made 11 saves on the Dallas power play alone during a trio of PP chances, and made a crucial leg pad save on Antoine Roussel in the third period that helped open things up for the goal-scoring outburst late in the game. Hopefully the strong, resounding performance from Rask answers some of the questions about some of his recent so-so performances between the pipes.   

BY THE NUMBERS: 29 – the number of goals this season for David Pastrnak as he readies to become only the ninth Bruins player to hit the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons over the last 35 years of franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Resiliency. We didn’t want to go quietly for sure. We can live with the end result as long as we play the right way. The end result went our way again in the end, and I think that’s a credit to the guys.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN about another comeback win for the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

AP Photo

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

DALLAS - David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card.

Dallas led 2-0 on a first-period goal by Esa Lindell and Jamie Benn's short-handed score late in the second.

In the third, Marchand tipped in a shot by Pastrnak before Schaller scored on a 2-on-1 with Marchand.

Lehtonen finished with 33 saves.

Lindell scored 2:26 into the game. Jason Dickinson tried to deflect a shot from the right point into the net but the puck went wide right. Curtis McKenzie picked it up behind the goal line and passed to Lindell high in the left faceoff circle. His wrist shot went in off Rask's right arm.

Benn missed two good scoring opportunities early in the second period, but connected at 19:22. He took a pass from Tyler Seguin at the Dallas blue line and had a breakaway when Matt Grzelcyk fell down. Benn slid a backhand under Rask.