The Boston Bruins have known for weeks now how things are going to play out for them once the NHL returns to play after the 24-team playoff format was approved by the NHL and NHLPA last month.
It’s not exactly the most advantageous position given that they would have been the No. 1 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the only team that had reached 100 points when the league went on pause for the 2019-20 NHL regular season.
Still, the Bruins have made peace with being forced to defend their top seed in a three-game round robin tournament with other top East seeds in the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers ahead of the traditional four rounds of Stanley Cup Playoffs this summer.
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Their approach is going to be an interesting one given that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned a “preseason mentality” for those round-robin games where the B’s might even rest some of their key players.
Perhaps they have in mind last summer’s scrimmage game ahead of the Stanley Cup Final that left B’s top liner Brad Marchand with an injured hand, and they’re instead going to err on the side of caution this time around.
But there’s also still seeding on the line in the round-robin tournament with the bottom seed potentially drawing the Pittsburgh Penguins as a first-round playoff opponent. That seems like something to play with greater than a “preseason mentality,” and instead prioritize ramping up the postseason mentality against a team that will have battled their way out of the play-in round.
Certainly guys like 43-year-old Zdeno Chara and 34-year-old Patrice Bergeron could be managed carefully while looking to keep them healthy for the elimination playoff games to follow the round-robin matches.
“We absolutely could rest players [in the round-robin],” said Cassidy on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call on Monday. “The first area we start with, Tuukka [Rask] is our guy. We’re very confident in [Jaroslav] Halak, but Tuukka is our playoff goaltender and he was going to start Game 1 [of the playoffs] with all things being equal. What does he need?
Do our veterans need all three games to get to the top of their game? Even if they do, should we play them and risk injuries? There’s a lot that goes into it. I think every team is probably going to have a little of the same approach [in the round-robin] and they are going to want to be at their best and healthiest headed into the playoffs.
"Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game. But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”
It’s going to be a strange dynamic with round-robin top seeds playing each other just a couple of weeks before they might see each other again in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Could there be teams looking to run goaltenders or make physical statements knowing that the opposition might be their biggest obstacle toward making a run at the Cup?
One would hope it’s more about getting ready with a three-game tune-up prior to the elimination playoff series, but then again too much of a “preseason mentality” might leave teams like the Bruins lacking in intensity when matched up against a team that just survived the play-in round of playoff games.
It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out once the NHL gets going in a couple of months with the Bruins right in the thick of everything as the top seed when everything was put on pause.