PHILADELPHIA – The good news is that the month of March is over for the Boston Bruins.
The schedule for March yielding 16 games in 31 days for the Black and Gold was talked about plenty beforehand, and there was really no getting around it after getting lots of down time in the first half of the season amid a slew of injuries.
It certainly hasn’t been easy as they’re still in a stretch where 11 of their 14 games are on the road with trips to Western Conference outposts like Dallas and Winnipeg thrown in there. Literally the only thing that might be able to slow down a speeding Black and Gold train is the grindingly dense slate of games to close out the season.
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Clearly it wasn't whole sale injuries or any other teams in the Eastern Conference that have gotten the better of them.
“It’s been a long [expletive] month,” said one Bruins player when asked candidly about the schedule.
Still, the Bruins marched mightily through March with an 11-2-3 record during those 16 games with an injury-laden group, clinched a playoff spot, overtook first place in the Atlantic Division and twice kicked around the Tampa Bay Lightning team they’d been chasing in the standings. So the Black and Gold deserve plenty of credit for the way they overcame the adversity of a busy month just as they’ve overcome everything else this season.
One has to wonder, though, if this grueling gauntlet at the end of the regular season is going to have some kind of residual effect after playing 21 games in their final 39 days of the regular season. Despite a stirring comeback that saw them secure a point with a game-tying Patrice Bergeron score with 3.8 seconds in the third period and the goalie pulled, the Bruins looked tired mentally and physically in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.
There were clear defensive breakdowns with Bruins defenders allowing Flyers players to sneak in behind them, and certainly the minus-5 for Boston’s best, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, was a sign of fatigue as well.
“Absolutely, I think we were running on fumes today,” admitted Bruce Cassidy after the back-to-back matinee weekend games with a12:30 p.m. puck drop in Philly. “It showed. Territorially I thought we still did very well in controlling the play, but I thought the chances that we gave up were kind of high-end where they got behind our ‘D.’ Normally we’re reloading better if it’s a ‘D’ pinching, or if it’s the middle of the ice we’re able to shut those plays down.
“And once they recognized that it was a little bit of a late read then they didn’t have the [skating] legs to catch up, and [the Flyers] were fresh. That was definitely part of it. So this is one of those games you hope one of a couple of things happen, one of your players has an outstanding game like maybe your goaltender, or maybe your power play gets hot and gets you three goals. It was a team effort to get the point, so today isn’t a bad result especially with all the hockey that we’ve played.”
The Bruins defense didn’t have many answers for Flyers winger Travis Konecny, who consistently got behind the B’s last line of defense for odd-man rush chances, drew a penalty on one breakaway and then scored on a play where he posterized both Adam McQuaid and Patrice Bergeron with a dangling rush to the net. It was Konecny’s cross-ice pass on a feed to Claude Giroux that opened the scoring midway through the first period after Boston’s second line along with a Torey Krug/Adam McQuaid pairing gave them way too much time and space to attack with speed.
There may be a bit of an asterisk on Philly’s third goal as the ice opened up after Nolan Patrick caught Torey Krug with a high stick to the face, but it was once again a breakaway chance for the No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft. Just like Claude Giroux’s game-winner in overtime was also of the breakaway variety on a day when Anton Khudobin wasn’t able to make any truly stellar saves to bail out his overworked teammates.
“For sure you could tell we were a little tired,” said Marchand. “It can wear on a team. But we had a good month still, and we can’t have any excuses where we’ve got to do our job, win games and continue to get points. Hopefully we’ll be ready for the next one after getting a day to recoup a little bit. The biggest thing when you do have the down time is that you’re doing every little thing that you can to recover. The games come quick, so it doesn’t happen often…but you need to get the rest when you can.”
The hope on the B’s end of it is that it’s a temporary, heavy-legged, foggy-brained fatigue, and that the Bruins will snap out of it once they get a few days of rest prior to the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Certainly they’re hoping a Monday off in Tampa with some rest and sunshine can energize them for the final four games played over a six-day span including another pair of back-to-back weekend games in Boston next weekend against Ottawa and Florida.
“We are [watching it closely] but I don’t know how you change it. We’ve got four coming up in six days to finish the year, so it is what it is,” said Cassidy. “We’re trying to balance the minutes and I thought we did that on [Saturday] with some guys [like Marchand and Krejci] to have a little more in the tank today. They’re going to be off on [Monday], so hopefully they get a good rest.
“Some sunshine will maybe rejuvenate [them]. But our guys are well-conditioned and pretty resilient, and once the game is on I think they forget about some of that stuff. It’s human nature, though, when you’re a little tired to not think on time, and I think that showed [against the Flyers].”
Ideally, the Bruins will clinch everything they can possibly clinch over the next few days in Florida, and that will allow them to rest players like Krug, Pastrnak, Kevan Miller, Marchand or David Krejci that have been shouldering a heavy load as of late. That might be just what the hockey doctor ordered to get them rested, rejuvenated and at full power once the postseason gets going a little less than two weeks from now.
But until all of that happens and the Bruins look like themselves on the ice in the postseason, one has to wonder how they’re going to look on the ice once they finally get through this scheduling gauntlet in the final six weeks of the regular season. The Sunday afternoon OT loss in Philly, while still impressive in that they outshot the Flyers by a 39-24 margin, was a concerning example of what might happen if they don’t find sufficient ways to fight through the fatigue.