BOSTON, MA -- The Boston Bruins went into Game 80 of the 2016-17 season against Atlantic Division rival Tampa Bay Lightning needing a win in regulation time to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sixty minutes later, the Bruins (44-30-6, 94 points) had a 4-0 win and a trip to the postseason tournament.
The game was marred by a controversial play by Boston’s Brad Marchand. With the scored tied at 0-0, Marchand the NHL’s No.2 goal scorer (39) and fourth-leading point producer (85 points), was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for spearing Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin in the groin at 19:20 of the first period.
“It was an undisciplined penalty,” Marchand said after the game. “There’s no question about that, and it could have cost the team a very important game, but the guys did a great job of rallying and having a huge game.”
Boston killed the 5-minute penalty and gained momentum from it. A Momentum that the Lightning could not subdue for the remainder of the night.
When the second period ended, the Bruins took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room on goals by Drew Stafford and David Pastrnak and with Boston owning a 33-0-2 record when leading after two periods, it was only a matter of winning the final 20 minutes. In the third period, Zdeno Chara’s power play goal and Pastrnak’s second lamplighter of the contest along with another stellar goaltending effort by Tuukka Rask made sure of that.
Boston’s Interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy lauded his players’ efforts when asked for his thoughts on clinching a playoff spot.
“Well, I think it takes a while to sink in after the original satisfaction of watching guys go to work everyday and getting better and slowly progressing to where we wanted to achieve,” Cassidy said. “Your first goal is to get into the playoffs, and then from there, we obviously have more we’d like to get done here in the next two nights, and going forward, but that’s your first goal, and it’s been a couple years, so there’s a sense of relief that you’re able to do it, and then there’s the joy that goes with that. So, we’re going to enjoy it and go from there.”
As for Cassidy’s own gratification in guiding the club into the playoffs after being elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach?
“Oh, extremely gratifying,” the bench boss answered. “It’s not the circumstances anybody wants to draw up, but it happened, and you go to work, you try to get the team where you think it needs to be and do the things that you feel are necessary, and to continue to get better. I thought we’ve done that. And this is the first step, we’ll see where it goes from here.”
For the six players (Chara, Rask, Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci) remaining on this Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011, not seeing playoff action for the last two seasons has been something that has troubled this proud group.
“It’s always a sad feeling when you don’t make the playoffs,” Chara said. “You work extremely hard to be in the playoffs. The first year, we just missed it with, I think, 96 points. Very unfortunate. It’s just... you always want to be playing for the ultimate trophy and you want to be in the playoffs. It’s fun hockey. It’s that time of the year where a lot of emotions are involved. It’s exciting for players, exciting for fans. Every game means so much. Everybody kind of starts from scratch, from 0-0 (record), and all that counts is wins. So, it’s kind of a nice feeling to be in the postseason again.
“I thought this team battled through some ups and downs throughout the year and it was one of those years where we really had to come together, and we did, and play really strong. Especially the last few months. It took us to put a number of games together and win them in a row and gain some points and ground. It was kind of not easy because everybody else was also winning. But, we obviously focused on ourselves and how we want to keep playing and keep getting better and keep earning those points and we did. So, like I said, it’s rewarding.”
“This one feels pretty special,” added Krejci. “We fought hard. It was an up and down year, but we got the job done. I thought we played really well the last 20 or so games, so, it feels really good.
“I feel like this city deserves playoff hockey. It’s always special to step on the ice for the first playoff game, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The win over Tampa Bay was Boston’s sixth consecutive victory, however, before putting this streak together Cassidy’s squad had lost four-straight games and the talk around town went from optimism to pessimism quickly when the subject of whether the Bruins would find their way into the postseason.
“It’s very gratifying,” Bergeron said when about his team dispelling the doubt that surrounded the club outside of their dressing room walls. “I think we’ve done a good job of staying positive and believing in ourselves and as a team. You know, I thought the older guys did a good job of showing the young guys that we’ve been through it (adversity) in the past and we can handle it one game at a time and move from there so I thought the last six games have been a great example of how good we can be and we have to keep playing like that obviously.”
The Bruins will finish the regular season this week with contests against Ottawa and Washington. Those games will dictate whether Boston finishes in second-place or third-place in the Atlantic Division or in the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.
“It was important to get it, and now we can just move on,” Said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. “Now, we have some other things to work on. We’ll continue to work on that and enter the playoffs on the right foot.”
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.