Given the way the last two years played out, it almost felt unnatural to wake up for today’s regular season finale and realize that the Bruins, who clinched the playoffs for the first time since 2014 with last Tuesday’s win over Tampa Bay, were not in a do-or-die situation.

The Capitals defeated the Bruins by a 3-1 final on Saturday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Capitals defeated the Bruins by a 3-1 final on Saturday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Given the way the last two years played out, it almost felt unnatural to wake up for today’s regular season finale and realize that the Bruins, who clinched the playoffs for the first time since 2014 with last Tuesday’s win over Tampa Bay, were not in a do-or-die situation.

That’s not to say that they couldn’t make life interesting, or that there was nothing for the Bruins to play for in Saturday’s midday visit from a anything-but-resting Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals group.

With the Senators taking care of business against the Rangers in a matinee affair, a win against the Caps and the Bruins would have locked themselves in the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic for a first-round showdown with those Senators. A loss, however, and the Bruins would have to wait to know their fate (a throwback to last year) thanks to the Maple Leafs’ remaining games, and whether it would involve a series in Ottawa, or a drop down into the second wild card to take on the Capitals in the opening round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Naturally, the Bruins opted for the second choice, as a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Capitals has put them back in a waiting game.

Down Noel Acciari (upper-body) and Torey Krug (lower-body), the Bruins came into this game operating with the decision not to rest anybody with the exception of Tuukka Rask (rest) given what was at stake for the club. But that decision to sit the 30-year-old Rask, who has been on fire for the Bruins of late, for Anton Khudobin took just one shot and 4:21 to bite the Bruins.

On an odd-man rush off a bad line change, it went Justin Williams to Marcus Johansson as the Caps swept through the Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo pairing with ease before Johansson beat a sprawled Khudobin for his 24th goal of the season. It was not the only deficit of the first period, either, as an Alex Ovechkin hit on Carlo from behind knocked the 20-year-old out of the game.

In a game that ramped up with intensity and post-whistle nonsense, the Bruins finally answered when Colin Miller scored his sixth goal of the season on a finish of a Drew Stafford net-front chance, and the Bruins were back in it.

…For all of 56 seconds.

The Capitals immediately responded with a goal from Kevin Shattenkirk tucked right under the crossbar, and added a third when Justin Williams atoned for his goaltender interference nullification of a would-be goal just moments prior and connected for 24th goal of the season, scored at the 19:10 mark of the second period. From there, and as Khudobin exited due to a sickness, it was all over for the Bruins, who put just seven shots on net in the third and final period of play of a listless, don’t-get-hurt loss.

 

So now the Bruins wait.

The good news, in addition to them, y’know, already being in the playoffs is that their fate depends on just one team: the Maple Leafs. Behind the Bruins by just two points and with two games left, the Bruins need the Leafs to lose just one game in regulation to hang onto the No. 3 seed and assure themselves of a first-round matchup with the Senators, as that would make the Leafs incapable of passing the Bruins in points (and the Bruins hold the regulation/overtime win tiebreaker). But if the Leafs finish their year 2-0-0 or 1-0-1, then it’s onto D.C. as the East’s second wild card for a date with the Capitals. The Bruins do catch a slight break in those two games, however, as the Leafs will play the Penguins tonight and the Blue Jackets tomorrow.

It’s not hard to figure out where the Bruins’ rooting interests should be this weekend, too.

As they showed for 60 minutes today — and without Braden Holtby in their crease, too — the Capitals are a buzzsaw of a nightmare for the Bruins. And the positive vibes of a playoff berth would probably last just five games in a series with them. Draw Ottawa and maybe you’re not talking about a guaranteed win (the Sens swept the season series), but you’re talking about a deep series where the Black and Gold could have a legitimate chance of making noise on into the second round.

Next up for the Bruins? Somewhere in a country’s capital.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bard Marchand. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

Bard Marchand. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

The NHL Awards have more resembled the Academy Awards in recent years due to the predictability of the winners and general lack of suspense for the most part. But this year has real potential for a neck-and-neck finish between “superstar grinder” Sidney Crosby and sophomore sensation Connor McDavid. It’s basically “LA LA LAND” vs. “MOONLIGHT.”

As for the Nose Face Killah (Brad Marchand), a strong showing in the last two games of the season could have solidified his case to be one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy (MVP voted on by PHWA). Alas, the two-game suspension for his crudely executed vasectomy attempt on Tampa Bay’s Jake Dotchin ensures he will finish the season with a still quite impressive 39-46—85 in 80 games played but he can finish no higher than fourth in NHL scoring.

Pat Kane won the award last year so, much like Meryl Streep, he’ll be in the running this year. The question is whether he gets bumped as a finalist for San Jose’s hirsute, dynamic D-man Brent Burns or Sergei Bobrovsky, the brilliant Blue Jackets goalie. But it won’t matter either because there’s a new sheriff in town. And his name is Connor McDavid. Ample points lead. Most points per game. Resurrected a dead franchise into a possible contender. He’s your Hart winner this year and quite possibly half of the next 16 seasons or so.

However, Burns won’t be shut out. Because the Norris Trophy has become the de facto award for highest scoring defenseman award rather than best D, he’s the favorite with 29-46—75 totals. But take into account his overall play and he feels like a shoe-in. Simply, Burns has been a beast for San Jose this season and will beat out the two phenomenal Swedes in Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman for the Norris.

If it wasn’t for Winnipeg’s teenage sniper Patrik Laine, who will eventually replace Alex Ovechkin as the game’s premier scorer, it’s possible (likely?) that all three finalists for the Calder Trophy would wear the blue and white Maple Leaf on their chest. Despite impressive rookie campaigns from Mitch Marner and William Nylander, their teammate Auston Matthews will waltz away with the ROY. He has two more games to crack 40 goals and already has the most ever goals by an American rookie, which is nuts. Laine will get some votes, and deservedly so, but Matthews is going to the playoffs. Add in the fact he plays in Toronto and it’s a no-brainer.

Even though he became just the third goalie in league history to win at least 40 games in three straight years, Braden Holtby will have his work cut out for him in order to win back to back Vezina Trophies. Sergei Bobrovsky has one fewer win and two fewer shutouts than Holtby but beats him in save percentage and goals against. Devan Dubnyk tailed off after a torrid start but should still be a finalist. This is a two horse race but Bob saw 155 more shots and gave up three fewer goals in addition to leading in the two major goalie stats so he’ll win his second Vezina in five years.

The Ted Lindsay Award is the most outstanding player as voted on by the NHLPA so it just carries a different set of biases than the media-selected Hart. Regardless, it’ll carry the same result—-Connor McDavid.

The most wide-open award is for the Jack Adams for Coach of the Year which is selected by the broadcasters. It typically goes to a young upstart or an established coach reviving a moribund team. There’s a dearth of the usual obvious candidates this year so it’ll be interesting to see who the finalists are (and thus, the criteria used to decide). But Minnesota’s Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, Toronto’s Mike Babcock, and Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper should all warrant serious consideration. However, East Coast Bias is very real and Toronto, even if not quite the East Coast, will see Babcock rewarded with his first Jack Adams for leading a pack of kids to the playoffs.

As for the Lady Byng? Uhh, wut?

Blog Author: 
Rear Admiral

The Bruins had near perfect attendance at their final practice before the conclusion of their regular season slate.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson's immigration issues have been cleared up. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s immigration issues have been cleared up. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s work visa issues were solved about 30 minutes too late on Thursday night, as the highly-touted prospect had to sit and watch as a spectator for the second game in a row since officially signing his entry-level deal with the Bruins last Sunday.

But finally cleared to join the roster, and with one game left in the regular season, the moment for ‘JFK’ to make his NHL debut has seemingly presented itself with Saturday’s visit from the Capitals.

“He’s a possibility for sure,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Forsbacka Karlsson playing tomorrow. “With some of our injured guys getting much closer to playing we’ll have some decisions to make tomorrow morning, but he could certainly get in.”

A two-year standout with Boston University, with 24 goals and 63 points in 78 games for the Terriers over the course of his NCAA career, the 20-year-old has played the part of student on into his NHL career, as a quiet, back-of-the-room presence that’s simply watching how many Bruins go about their business.

“He’s quiet, I’ll tell you that. He’s like a lot of young guys, just going about his business trying to fit in, so to speak, right now,” Cassidy said. “I understand he’s a very solid 200-foot player and if he gets in the lineup we’ll expect him to play to his strengths and see what he’s got, but he’s a bit of an unknown obviously. Most guys are [in] their first pro game.

“A Nice kid, seems very cerebral. Understands when you’re talking systems and will interact with you in that area.”

(Forsbacka Karlsson, by the way, said that he feels ‘up to speed’ on the B’s system and their desired style of play.)

Able to participate in last night’s warmup, Forsbacka Karlsson seems done with NHL teasers and is raring to go for his first game.

“I’m ready to go, absolutely,” Forsbacka Karlsson, who played center in his college career, said following Friday’s practice.

If given the call tomorrow, Forsbacka Karlsson would become the 10th Bruins player to have made his NHL debut for the club this season, which would be the most first-year talents to suit up for the Bruins since 2005-06.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Torey Krug will be out for Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Torey Krug will be out for Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins had near perfect attendance at their final practice before the conclusion of their regular season slate. But the absences of those not on the ice — 51-point top-four defenseman Torey Krug and fourth-line energy winger Noel Acciari — were certainly noticeable, and should continue to be when the B’s take on the Capitals tomorrow.

“Lower-body. He’ll be out tomorrow, that much we know” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed of Krug, who was reportedly seen leaving TD Garden on crutches last night, and his status for tomorrow’s season finale. “And then from there, day-to-day.”

Cassidy and the B’s medical team made the same decision on Acciari, who had one shot on goal and five hits in 12:55 of time on ice last night against the Senators, but because of an upper-body injury.

The loss of Krug, who has put together the most consistent season of his pro career this season, with eight goals and 51 points (the sixth-most among NHL defenders this season), is a gigantic one for the Bruins. Next to losing Zdeno Chara, it might just be the most devastating loss that the B’s blue line could take on this season.

Cassidy actually straight-up admitted that there’s no way for the B’s to replace what he brings to the ice, too.

“He’s a special talent; Power play, first pass on the breakout, neutral zone transition, all those things,” Cassidy said of Krug following Friday’s practice in Brighton. “We’re gonna miss his ability to get going on offense in a hurry. Having said that, we have good puck-movers back there. It’s the way it is this time of year. You get injuries, next man up’s gotta get in there and get the job done. Play to his strengths without being something he’s not, so that’s what we’ll ask of them.”

The Bruins rolled through practice with John-Michael Liles, who took Krug’s spot on the first power play unit and as the de facto No. 2 left-shot defender behind Chara last night, in Krug’s usual spot to Adam McQuaid’s left, which put Colin Miller back in the rotation on the left side of the B’s third pairing opposite Kevan Miller.

With the exception of the injured, and goaltender Tuukka Rask (rest), Cassidy is not expected to rest any of his star players for tomorrow’s finale, as the Bruins are still playing to avoid falling into the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
David Pastrnak won the second 7th Player Award of his NHL career. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Pastrnak won the second 7th Player Award of his NHL career. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Pastrnak is amazing. He’s fun. He’s multidimensional. He’s an elite talent. What he is not, however, and regardless of what the end results of the fan vote conducted by NESN.com visitors tell me, is the proper recipient 7th Player Award for the 2016-17 season.

In case you’re unaware, NESN’s 7th Player Award is an annual award presented to the Bruin who exceeded the expectations of Bruins fans for that season. And this is the second time Pastrnak has received NESN’s 7th Player Award, as he also won the award in 2015.

See, that alone I have a problem with.

If Pastrnak surpassed your expectations as an 18-year-old in 2015 — when he scored 10 goals and 27 points in 46 points — then you should have seen the natural trajectory leading him to 30-goal status by year three. His sophomore season, with 15 goals and 26 points in an injury-shortened 51-game year, showed more of that potential. And you should have known that Pastrnak was entering this season as the club’s top right winger — be it with Patrice Bergeron on the B’s first line or with David Krejci on the second line — which meant that goals and opportunities were going to be there. (It’s the same logic that should have been applied to Brad Marchand a year ago, too, when he won it for the second time in his career.)

So if you didn’t see this Pastrnak production coming, it’s because you simply weren’t paying attention.

In other words, somebody else was robbed. But who?

For me, the easy call here is Brandon Carlo. A 19-year-old when the season started, Carlo has been the team’s No. 2 defenseman next to the 40-year-old Zdeno Chara since the first day of the season. Carlo successfully made the jump to the NHL after just seven regular season and one playoff game in the AHL a year ago, and aside from a few first-year walls, has not missed a beat. One of four Bruins skaters to have played in all 81 games to date this season, Carlo has tallied six goals and 16 points, and ranks fourth among NHL rookies with 21:01 of time on ice per game. The Colorado Spring, Colo. native has also been an integral part of a Boston penalty that ranks as the second-best unit in the NHL, and his 2:38 of shorthanded time on ice is the third-most among rookies this season, and ranks 28th among all NHL skaters overall. I’m sure everybody saw that coming right out of the gate.

If not Carlo, how about Dominic Moore? A late summer signing, Moore has recorded 11 goals and 25 points this season, which is probably the last thing you expected, at least if you watched how he faded down the stretch for the Rangers last season.

You could even make the case for somebody like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, two players that have been heavily criticized for their redundancies, but two guys that have put together the most consistent hockey of their pro careers this season, too.

But that doesn’t matter, really.

This award has deteriorated into the Most Excited Young Guy Award, which is, well, largely incorrect. Sometimes it works, though, like in 2009-10 when Tuukka Rask went from backup to de facto starter as a rookie. Or when Brad Marchand worked his way from the fourth line to the first line in his rookie season in 2010-11. Reilly Smith in 2013-14 is another good example, too, as he was considered a complementary piece of the Tyler Seguin trade, but turned out to outshine Loui Eriksson that season.

But the heart of this award seems more hardhat in nature. It should be awarded to a player whose production or impact is legitimately shocking and/or unexpected given where they were slotted in the lineup or salary wise. It’s why Daniel Paille should have won over Dougie Hamilton in 2013, and why one of Carlo or Moore should have won over Pastrnak this season.

Of course, it’s an award from the local TV station and means little in the grand scheme of things.

But the traditionalist in me can’t help but hope that the voters end their current slump and get it right next year.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

In a battle for playoff positioning against the Senators at TD Garden on Thursday night, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug’s night came to an end after just three shifts and 2:32 of time on ice.

Torey Krug left Thursday's game with a lower-body injury. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Torey Krug left Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In a battle for playoff positioning against the Senators at TD Garden on Thursday night, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug’s night came to an end after just three shifts and 2:32 of time on ice. It was probably the absolute last thing the Bruins wanted to hear against an Ottawa team that loves to stifle teams into bad passes from their point, too.

It’s bad enough that Krug went down the tunnel. But it was even worse when Krug was almost immediately ruled out for the rest of the night.

For the Bruins to determine that Krug’s night was over that quickly means that whatever it was, was pretty bad for the B’s best puckmover.

“All I got is lower body,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Krug’s status. “Obviously he couldn’t return, so you know, that’s never good. But, I imagine it will be released at some point but I don’t have any information for you, sorry. We missed him.”

Down Krug, the Bruins deployed their five defensemen on a mix and match basis, and no defender logged less than 21 minutes in the shootout loss to the Senators. John-Michael Liles, who finished the night with three shots on goal in 21:12 of time on ice, took on Krug’s role as the club’s No. 2 left side defender behind Zdeno Chara and skated in Krug’s spot on the B’s top power-play unit.

But the Bruins missed Krug’s vision on the first pass out of their end, which was a 65-minute nightmare for the Bruins.

“These are the games where he sees the ice very well in the neutral zone and it only takes a few seams when all the sudden you’re in, and even on the forecheck spring a guy,” Cassidy said of Krug’s loss in this game. “He – listen, he does it once or twice a game; he gives us opportunities to attack with numbers, keeps pucks live, even the offensive blueline play, he’ll find a play or two.”

“I mean, anytime you lose someone like Torey, it’s never easy. He’s just so dynamic and sees plays that other people don’t see,” Liles admitted. “It was more just everybody trying to step up and kind of fill that void a little bit, and beyond that, it was just a matter of trying to keep shifts short and having forwards help us out because we were a little bit undermanned, and, it just takes a toll on the defense as a whole going down to five, and, anytime the bench is short like that, it’s not easy.”

According to CSNNE, Krug was seen leaving the Garden with a brace on his right knee and on crutches.

One of four Bruins to have played in all 81 games this season, Krug is in the midst of a career-year with the Bruins, with eight goals and 51 points, which has made him the first 50-point B’s d-man since 2008-09 (Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman).

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins and Sens skated in their fourth and final meeting of the season tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

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.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson