The Bruins and Sens skated in their fourth and final meeting of the season tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)
If you ever want to suck the life out of a game, just invite the Senators to your town, and tell them to leave Erik Karlsson behind.
One of the game’s most electrifying talents with the way he creates offense from the point with an upbeat transition game and otherworldly passing game, the Senators came into tonight’s season series finale down their captain, who is back to day-to-day status with a lower-body ailment, according to Sens coach Guy Boucher. The Bruins, meanwhile, were without their most dynamic offensive talent, winger Brad Marchand, thanks to his two-game suspension handed down earlier today for Tuesday’s spear to the Lightning’s Jake Dotchin.
The absence of both Marchand and Karlsson undoubtedly put a damper in what many logically considered to be a potential first-round matchup, with the Sens entering play in second in the Atlantic and the Bruins in third. The Bruins also lost defenseman Torey Krug early in the first period of a head-to-head that lacked any sort of a sizzle from that point on, as the Bruins and Senators mucked it up to a 2-1 shootout final for the Senators at TD Garden.
And if this was a playoff preview of what’s to be in the first round, get your blankets and pillows ready for a snoozefest.
Of course things should be different if the Senators get Karlsson back for the playoffs and when Marchand returns to the ice, but for 60 minutes, the Senators and Bruins did their best to rob the sellout Garden crowd of their money tonight.
Listen, the Senators are built this way because it works for them. A team that lacks true high-end skill up front — which should not be taken as a insult to the likes of Mark Stone and Kyle Turris — the Senators rely on a three-zone, grind-it-out style that creates problems for teams through the neutral zone. The Bruins seemed to fix those problems in the last meeting with Ottawa, where they did everything but score on Craig Anderson in a 36-shot loss, and looked to be on the same route tonight.
With 15 shots in the opening period (and just 10 from the Senators), the Bruins struck first when Drew Stafford snuck a crafty wraparound in against the veteran Anderson for his eighth goal of the season, a power-play goal created when Zdeno Chara intercepted an attempted clear from Ottawa defender Ben Harpur at the 10:37 mark of the period.
But as the Sens tightened things up in the middle stanza, the Bruins struggled to extend their lead, and were drawn back even when Alex Burrows pummeled his 15th goal of the season through Tuukka Rask for a 1-1 score 7:37 into the period.
It would hold as the lone goal of the period, too, and as the game crawled to a stop in the third period.
Largely a result of two penalties taken in the third period, the Bruins had just two shots on net with 5:33 left in the third period. Things were further complicated for the club when Chara took a matching minor with Sens grinder Ryan Dzingel. That four-on-four came with more of the same in a frustrating third for the Bruins — that being a whole lot of nothing — and it wasn’t until the teams returned to five-on-five play that the Bruins were able to hammer shot No. 3 of the period on Anderson.
It was a period that was spent almost entirely in the B’s end, and with Rask having to make big stop after big stop, and perhaps none bigger than his power-play stonewall of the Sens’ Cody Ceci on a puck that trickled out to no man’s land for a one-timer.
In overtime, the teams traded rush for rush — but with very few shots against — and moved to a shootout.
The Sens scored in the bottom of the first round when Turris went five-hole on Rask, and the Bruins went 0-for-3, with stops on Stafford, Ryan Spooner, and David Pastrnak from Anderson, who stopped 28-of-29 shots in the 65-minute frame.
And in a season series that’s been largely maddening, Thursday’s game felt like a step back for the Bruins. They were seemingly incapable of solving Boucher’s neutral zone clogging, and their passes were often met with resistance and chances the other way. Luckily for the Bruins, their defensive game was up to snuff and limited Ottawa’s ability to blow through their defense, but the lack of true pressure on Anderson and the rest of the battered Ottawa defensive corps really stuck out as a miss for the Bruins.
The obvious question this late in the year is could the Bruins beat the Senators in a seven-game series? Sure. I don’t think the Sens have all that much in terms of offensive firepower and the Bruins have the experience — and statistical edge — to outduel them. But if Thursday told us anything, it’s that it won’t be easy battle. And that the B’s have plenty of homework left to be done when it comes to figuring out just how to beat the Sens for some five-on-five tallies.
The Bruins conclude their regular season on Saturday against the Capitals.