BOSTON, MA -- In the classic 1966 song titled “For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield observed “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
That sums up the month of March for the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins responded as was hoped after Interim Coach Bruce Cassidy was elevated from assistant coach status by winning 12 of their next 16 games extending deep into the third month of 2017.
Cassidy’s club appeared to be on its way to ending a two-year absence from the Stanley Cup playoffs by cruising into the postseason and then the good times came to a screeching halt.
After riding high, Boston fell into a four-game losing streak and sunk from third-place in the Atlantic Division to the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference to completely out of the playoff picture with consecutive losses to Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Tampa Bay, and oh, by the way, those last three defeats came to division rivals.
What happened to the Bruins that saw them lose so much ground in such a short time?
David Backes summed it up after the loss to the Lightning.
“I think the things that we were doing when we were winning -- sometimes, you’ve got to take a big hit to put your teammate in a better spot, or to block a shot when there’s a breakdown, or to make that penalty kill work no matter who you’re playing against or what the circumstances are on the kill,” he said. “Get a job done. All those little things that we're so good at when we’re stringing wins together, now, we’re not doing on a regular enough basis and we’re stringing losses together. I think that’s a glaring point that if we get back to that, we’ve shown we can do it for extended periods, we’re going to be just fine. But, it takes a concerted effort by each guy and I need to lead the charge.
“I’ll be the first guy to point fingers at my chest and say I need to be better. It’s that time of year when you need your best every night to win, no matter who you’re playing against or what the circumstances may be. We’ve played pretty good hockey under Bruce, but, now’s not the time to not be giving ourselves a chance to win and we need to be doing that every night. We’ve got eight games left and they all need to be really good ones to great ones so that we can find our way into these playoffs.”
In their next outing, the Bruins gave themselves a chance to win and the streak came to a halt with a victory over the New York Islanders in Brooklyn in a game in which the two teams were tied for the last playoff position in the east when the puck was dropped to start the contest.
There are two weeks remaining in the season for Boston during which the Bruins will play six games at home and one on the road. It looks as if they are in a good situation, you say.
It does look good on the surface, however, two of those home games are against Atlantic Division clubs Ottawa and Tampa Bay. The others will see the Black and Gold face off against Nashville, Dallas and Florida. Not an easy schedule by any stretch of the imagination.
The only road game remaining on the schedule is against the Blackhawks, who may be the best team in the NHL at this point.
No, I did not forget about the sixth home contest.
If it all comes down to that game, it will be the final game of the season and it will be against the Washington Capitals. That’s not to say, the result will be less than desired but it will be quite the challenge with a playoff spot on the line especially if the Capitals need the points to win the President’s Trophy or finish first in the Metropolitan Division or both.
The Bruins painted themselves into a corner with the four-game losing streak and each contest will be a playoff game for them from here on out.
The last two years were the start of a rebuild in Boston. This season has been year three. A year in which the young players, who have been learning the NHL game while on the job for the last one or two years, have shown maturity and should be ready to see postseason duty but before that can happen, the Bruins need to heed Backes’ words and give themselves a chance to win every time their skates hit the ice.
Over the weekend, Bruins puck-stopper Tuukka Rask suffered a lower body injury and was deemed unable to play against the Islanders. In fact, the decision was made that he not accompany his teammates to Brooklyn. A decision that is made by the team, not the player.
Immediately, Rask’s detractors questioned his commitment to his teammates, the team, and the city of Boston. Rest assured, according to more than one source, if he could have played, Rask would have been between the pipes in what was considered the biggest game of the year.
Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin stepped into the crease and backstopped the Bruins’ 2-1 win prompting calls from the masses to anoint the native of Kazakhstan as the new number one netminder. They backed up their argument by saying Khudobin was 5-0-0 since Cassidy took the reigns behind the bench.
Somehow, they forgot that from opening night in October through the middle of January, Boston had won 26 games. Rask was the winning goaltender for 25 of those victories and was the club’s best player on many of those nights.
Khudobin (6-5-0-1, 2.60 GAA, .899 Save Percentage) is a very serviceable backup NHL puck stopper, but Rask (33-20-0-4, 2.38 GAA, .910 Save Percentage) will resume his position as the top man in the crease when he is healthy, which may be as soon as Tuesday versus Nashville in Boston.
"He's our No. 1 goalie,” Cassidy said about Rask after Monday’s practice in Boston. “His health is very important and when he's ready to go and he tells me that, we'll make our decision. One practice he feels good and that's a big positive for us.”
End of controversy.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.