In a perfect world, the Bruins would be in maintenance mode right now. If they had taken care of business against two non-playoff teams over the weekend, the B’s would have clinched home ice advantage for their first-round matchup against the Maple Leafs and they could start sprinkling in some rest for their big guns in these three final games of the regular season.
That, of course, didn’t happen. The B’s lost at home against the Panthers on Saturday and then spit up a third-period lead in a matter of eight seconds on Sunday to the Red Wings. Now they’re still three points away from wrapping up home ice, pending the Leafs’ game against the Islanders on Monday night. And as they head into Tuesday’s game against a desperate Columbus Blue Jackets team, there’s no time to rest yet for a veteran core that probably could use a breather before shifting into playoff mode after Saturday’s regular season finale against Tampa.
David Krejci’s played all 79 games this year. Brad Marchand has played 78 games. Patrice Bergeron missed a month earlier in the season, but he could use a blow, too.
“Obviously, we’d like to get to the point where we have the luxury of resting people. We’ve also said we want to play for what’s in front of us, which is second place. We’re allowing some of that opportunity get away from us. Of course, so have some of the teams behind us, chasing us,” said coach Bruce Cassidy after the 6-3 defeat in Motown. “We’re going to have to evaluate what’s more important. We’ve got three more games. We’re not going to rest players for a week. That won’t happen. I don’t think any team does that. But there could be select games and I think there should be. I just don’t know which games. I was hoping we could cherry pick them this week, but it’s not the case right now. But we may have to do that anyway.”
While Marchand and Bergeron still have enough gas to produce their occasional magic – as evidenced by their work on Marchand’s shorthanded goal in Detroit – they were each minus-5 over the last two games. Even taking into account the empty net goals against in both games, that is highly uncharacteristic of this duo, who had had Marcus Johansson and then David Pastrnak on their right wing in the two games.
Their current level of play doesn’t seem too unlike where it was just before the bye week and All-Star break in late January, when their batteries were running low. When the team reopened for business 10 days later, Marchand and Bergeron were fully charged and the B’s went off on their (thus far) season-defining 18-game point streak.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are some who need all the playing time they can get. Despite his five-point game against the Rangers last week, David Pastrnak still does not seem completely right in his puckhandling. The third defense pair of Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller, who both returned from injuries over the weekend, needs to get up to speed. On Taro Hirose’s game-winning goal in Detroit, speedster Andreas Athanasiou was able to split the pair to create havoc and set up Hirose. And trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson, who missed three weeks with a lung contusion, has just three games to find a line that he can call home. Johansson showed some signs in Detroit that he might be a fit on Charlie Coyle’s left side, but not enough to be definitive.
The B’s will see a bump up in competition on Tuesday night in Columbus. When they were last there three weeks ago, the Blue Jackets sprinted out to a 5-1 lead before holding off a late charge by the B’s in a 7-4 Columbus victory. After Columbus management pushed all its chips to the middle of the table at the trade deadline, the Jackets have been playing well but have yet to nail down a playoff spot.
Could this challenge be what the team needs right now? One veteran thinks so.
Said David Backes: “(The Blue Jackets) are going to be a great opportunity for us to establish ourselves in a great, playoff-style game because they’re fighting for their lives for the playoffs. We went in there and they handed us their lunch last time.”
We’ll see on Tuesday if they’re n the right mind frame to thrive in that environment again.