The Bruins were a tad upset with the NHL's return to play format, but it turns out they should be thanking the league.
They just lost their first four games after the regular season (one exhibition, three round robin) and weren't eliminated. What a bunch of lucky ducks.
And if this thing crashes and burns against Carolina — it could; I'll explain that in a minute — there's no blaming the pandemic or the format. Sure, the stoppage was a nightmare that brought about new variables for the season, but don't we keep saying about the Patriots that the best teams are able to deal with these variables better than anyone else?
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The Flyers didn't have an issue coming back and hitting the ground running. Neither did the Lightning, and they had injuries. You can look around the league and find teams that got caught up quickly.
The Bruins not doing so is their problem — not anyone else's.
Now, there has been some weirdness across the league. The Blues were the No. 1 team out west and also got the 4-seed. Half the qualifying round series were upsets, but upsets happen in the NHL. The only one deserving of the "no one could see this coming" label would be the Canadiens upsetting the Penguins, but Mike Felger, Jim Murray and probably 100,000 Bruins fans saw that one coming a mile away. Claude Julien in the playoffs with a good goalie? It was at least going to be close.
If you want to spin the Bruins sucking in the round robin, you can liken it to them swinging a weighted bat. They played the other three best teams in the conference, so maybe their effort in Sunday's loss to the Capitals gets them a win against a different team.
The Bruins should be better than that, though. I've gone on breathlessly about the team's roster issues, but things like the Bergeron line struggling, Zdeno Chara looking out of sorts and the team not having a power play are new. In addition to being flawed, the Bruins were plain bad in the round robin.
Tuukka Rask has given quotes about the round robin games not mattering much, but those games held meaning. The Bruins were clearly trying to win Sunday (Ondrej Kase finally played and the forward group resembled what they'll probably go with in the playoffs) in order to get the No. 3 seed and get the Islanders in the first round.
Instead they have the Hurricanes, who had absolutely no problem getting going again. They're young, they're skilled and they've got to love the way they're playing after sweeping the Rangers in the qualifiers. Sebastian Aho was second in points in the play-in round despite his series only lasting three games. His line with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen is freaking legit.
On the back end, old friend Dougie Hamilton could put them over the top. He was having a career year before a left fibula fracture ended it... or so everyone thought.
The Hurricanes traded for Sami Vatanen to replace him on the top pair, but now after a setback caused Hamilton to miss the Rangers series, he’s back practicing with the team. That’s reason to think he’ll be back for some — if not all — of the series, which would bump Vatanen down to the second or third pair and further bolster Carolina’s back end.
They're obviously beatable, and the Bruins should hope Carolina just sees the uniforms, thinks about last year's Eastern Conference Final and shrivels up. Yet if the Bruins are what they've been so far in the return, Carolina could easily win this series. This will all come down to whether the Bruins find what they were before the break.
If they don't, they could be out after one round, which didn't seem like a possibility pre-COVID, but last year's Presidents' Trophy-winner experienced that very fate. Teams that aren't prepared lose, which is what happened to the 2018-19 Lightning.
Maybe the Bruins didn't take the round robin seriously, but they should have. If they take that same "eh, we'll figure it out" approach against Carolina, they'll have wasted a chance as Cup contenders.
That won't be the NHL's fault.