By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Put your popcorn away and get up off your couch for at least a week — the Bruins aren’t going to turn the end of the regular season into another soap opera.
The Bruins qualified for the postseason for the first time in three seasons with a 4-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden on Tuesday.
Although it might’ve been fun to watch the Bruins again wait until the season’s last day (and maybe even need some help) to go for a spot in the postseason the way they did the past two years, the Bruins put an end to all the nonsensical talk about their nerves and intestinal fortitude. Those members of the fan base that secretly wish for a Bruins collapse every year are going to have to wait at least until the end of the first round of the playoffs, and even then they’ll have little to say because Phase One of general manager Don Sweeney’s plan has worked.
The Bruins, who a week and a half ago had lost four in a row and caused some people to warm up for a dance on their grave, have won six in a row. Not only have they clinched a playoff spot, they could win their way to home-ice advantage. And they’ve gotten here without trading away any of their predicted bright future.
“It’s kind of a nice feeling to be in the postseason again,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said after he scored one of Boston’s four goals against the Lightning. “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 played really strong, especially the last few months.”
The Bruins are 18-7-0 since Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien on Feb. 7. The win against the Lightning encapsulated everything the Bruins have done right since Cassidy took over, and even a few things they were doing well before the coaching change.
The Bruins’ penalty kill was air tight for all of a five-minute major penalty against Brad Marchand. David Pastrnak scored twice to run his goal total to 34 for the season. Tuukka Rask picked up his eighth shutout of the season. And with Marchand out of the game for spearing Tampa Bay defenseman Jake Dotchin in the midsection, the Bruins found guys to pick up the slack, led by Dominic Moore, who filled in for Marchand on the penalty kill and 5-on-5 with Patrice Bergeron and David Backes.
Most importantly, the Bruins returned to their roots during their six-game winning streak. They have allowed six goals, including two shutouts by Rask. That’s a far cry from the Bruins allowing six goals in their last loss, a 6-3 decision to the Lightning on March 23.
“Just playing really well defensively, playing as a unit,” center David Krejci said. “Every guy knows what to do. You’re going to have some breakdowns. But that’s why you have four other guys and Tukes to stop the puck. It happens and the other four guys make up for it. So we played as a unit and got the job done.”
Cassidy’s too modest to take credit for the season-saving turnaround after the Lightning game. But the coach references the video session he and his staff had with the players in the aftermath of that defeat and how it helped get the Bruins out of their funk.
“We just needed to be sharper this time of year,” Cassidy said. “Credit to the guys in our room … the core has been a strong defense here for years, so they got back to what they did best and we still tried to bring our offense without selling the farm so to speak.”
The Bruins had low expectations and they met them. Or they surpassed them if you’re impressed they didn’t wait until the weekend to clinch their berth. Will they make a run? We all know, from 2013’s trip to the finals and other teams’ unexpected runs that anything is possible. They have the goaltending, the experience and seemingly the scoring (assuming Marchand doesn’t get banned for life).
It doesn’t really matter because the Bruins have already accomplished what they set out to do. The players are still going to play their hearts out but they can’t really let anyone down from here on.
For a core that might have been broken up if the Bruins missed the playoffs, and won’t be together much longer just based on age and salary-cap concerns, this playoff qualification is somewhat redeeming in light of the past two collapses. Making the playoffs also justifies Sweeney’s plan and earns him the right to keep executing it.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.