In the 10 years since they last won the Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins have played more playoff games than any team except the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins, of course, have won two Stanley Cups in the last decade. The Bruins have only two losses in the finals during that time.
Boston’s consistency has been remarkable. Four Bruins remain from the 2011 team that beat the Vancouver Canucks for the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in the last 39 years. But throughout the churn in personnel, including coaching and managing, the National Hockey League team has continued to win.
The Bruins have missed the playoffs only twice since their Cup win and even in those seasons were well north of 90 points.
Truly, they could have had a dynasty. Instead, they haven’t advanced beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament except in 2013 and 2019, when they lost finals to the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.
Here they are again tonight, facing another second-round elimination, on the road in New York, trailing the Islanders 3-2.
It would be naïve to regard tonight as an end of an era if the Bruins lose. Although goalie Tuukka Rask, 34, and centre David Krejci, 35, are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, Patrice Bergeron, 35, and Brad Marchand, 33, are still among the best players not only on their team but in the entire league.
And the franchise has shown the ability to replenish on the fly. Young, elite players like David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy are still getting better.
But age is relentless, and you never know when your last best chance to win will come. Maybe it has already passed.
Boston’s iconic leaders aren’t getting younger, and making the playoffs won’t be any easier when the NHL emerges from the global pandemic next season.
So, yes, there may be more at stake tonight for the Bruins than just one game.
“I think the biggest thing is not overthinking it,” Marchand told reporters today on Zoom after the Bruins’ optional morning skate. “It’s one game and you can’t think about everything else that comes with that. It’s one game, we’ve prepared for this a million times. When we come prepared to play, we’re a good team and we’re going to give ourselves a chance. But again, there’s so many different factors that goes into a team winning that you can’t control.”
Marchand may have been referencing the referees, whose work earned $25,000-worth of criticism last game from Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. The only thing swifter than the Islanders’ forecheck is the NHL when it comes to stamping out dissent.
But the biggest factors the Bruins can’t control, it seems, is the Islanders. It’s not like New York’s best players have outplayed the top Bruins, there are just a lot more of them. The Islanders depth has exposed the Bruins’ lineup as top heavy.
In swapping centres Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, New York coach Barry Trotz outmaneuvered Cassidy in Monday’s 5-4 win in Boston. And Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, who didn’t even start the series because New York’s depth includes the crease, has outplayed Rask.
“You’ve got to stay in the moment, first and foremost,” Cassidy said this morning. “You can’t sort of get nervous or go through the what-if scenarios. I know it sounds cliche, but you prepare to win, to play the right way, take it one shift at a time, one period of time. You reset if something goes wrong and you build on the good things.
“Let’s not be thinking about a potential Game 7 or what-if down the road. Let’s take care of business in Game 6, outplay the opposition and hopefully we finish better than they do.”
Trailing 5-2, Cassidy pulled Rask in the second intermission of Game 5, replacing him with goalie prospect Jeremy Swayman, who was beaten once on three shots. Cassidy said the move was preventative, with Rask not quite fully fit.
Rask, who has started 103 NHL playoff games, is back in goal tonight. Cassidy also said struggling winger Jake DeBrusk will get back into the Boston lineup due to a lower-body injury to Curtis Lazar.
“He’s ready to go; it’s that simple,” Cassidy said of Rask. “He’s our starting goalie and he’s healthy and ready to go, and let’s hope he’s on tonight and we’re better in front of him than we were in Game 5.”
Cassidy said it is Rask’s net, but it feels like the Islanders’ time.
The team has been hardened by three straight playoff campaigns under Trotz and has a deep, experienced lineup of players mostly in their prime.
“You’ve got to stay in the moment, first and foremost,” Cassidy said. “You can’t sort of get nervous or go through the what-if scenarios. Let’s not be thinking about a potential Game 7 or what-if down the road. Let’s take care of business in Game 6, outplay the opposition and hopefully we finish better than they do.”
Marchand said: “The biggest thing is just when you go through previous situations where you’re in games like this, it just allows you to feel comfortable every time you go into it.
“You can’t have any excuses. You can’t have a bad game. And hopefully we get some bounces. I think we’re all excited for the challenge and the opportunity. We’re still here, we’re still fighting for our lives and there’s seven games for a reason.”