By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It seems regardless of who’s coaching, who’s in the lineup, or what time of year it is, the Bruins find a way to squander fortunate situations.
In need of a win to clinch third place in the Atlantic Division, or one point to put pressure on the fourth-place Toronto Maple Leafs to win their final two games of the regular season, and facing a Washington Capitals team with nothing to play for, the Bruins lost 3-1 Saturday and increased their risk of facing the Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this week.
The Bruins were without the suspended Brad Marchand and injured Torey Krug, and then lost Brandon Carlo to injury in the first period, but the Capitals played at an intensity level somewhere between rigorous practice and slightly important mid-January game and still showed the Bruins how little they should want to cross over as a wild card into the Metropolitan Division.
Regardless of whether the Maple Leafs get the one point they need Sunday to knock the Bruins into the wild card or Boston faces Ottawa in the first round, the important thing is general manager Don Sweeney and Bruins ownership got their wish: a few extra games.
Against Ottawa or Washington, the postseason is going to test several key Bruins’ ability to elevate their game and will provide experience for younger players.
With that in mind here’s a thumbnail look at how ready some Bruins seem to take on the playoffs for the first time in three seasons:
David Krejci: Ready
Let’s start with a positive. No Bruins player has the postseason resume of Krejci, who twice led the playoffs in scoring. At 30 years old and coming off offseason hip surgery, Krejci seemingly got stronger as the season went on. The Bruins probably should have rested him a little bit at the outset of the season when he was struggling, but there’s no turning back. Coach Bruce Cassidy’s challenge has been finding a left wing to play with Krejci and David Pastrnak. Drew Stafford might not be the classic power forward that line needs, but with his experience and knowledge of how to get open the Bruins’ second line could provide the necessary support to the Patrice Bergeron line.
Ryan Spooner: Not ready
The “pull-up jump shot” as I like to call it isn’t going to work in the playoffs. That imaginary force field Spooner seemingly sees blocking the 40-foot area around the net in the attacking zone every time he cross the blue line has to come down. He has to use his speed to elude defenders and protect himself when they catch up. He’s going to have to go into the corners and work hard. He wasn’t as empowered to do it after the coaching change as many had hoped. Will he do it in the postseason? He’s provided no reason to believe he will.
Frank Vatrano: Not ready
Could repeat a lot of Spooner’s problems here. Was there a better sign Vatrano’s not ready than that ill-timed line change he went for before the Capitals’ first goal on Sunday? If he does that in the playoffs and it could cost the Bruins the series. He hasn’t finished in a long time (16 games without a goal) and his physical play is non-existent. It’ll be tough for Cassidy to decide whether Vatrano should be in the lineup.
David Pastrnak: Ready
This is going to be fun. Pastrnak’s best attributes are his speed and his shot, and those should look glorious in the postseason. But he loves to hit too, and he doesn’t shy away from opponents’ contact. Undoubtedly he’s going to be targeted and his tenacity should make him a fun player to watch in the postseason after his 34-goal regular season.
Tuukka Rask: Ready
Have you stopped laughing since some were clamoring for Anton Khudobin to be the No. 1 goalie down the stretch? Definitely the most hilarious suggestion since someone recommended the Bruins hire a sumo wrestler to play goal. All Rask did after missing that game against the New York Islanders on March 25 was go 4-0-1 with four goals allowed to help the Bruins clinch a playoff spot. He seems to have his body and his mind in the right place, and with the right amount of support in front of him he should be the least of the Bruins’ concerns in the postseason.
Kevan Miller: Ready
He’s come a long way since that terrible second-round series he had against Montreal in 2014. His physicality was never a question, and he’s added smarter plays with the puck to his repertoire. Depending on Carlo and Krug’s status, Miller could find himself in a top-four role and he’s proven over the course of the season that he’s ready.
Power play: TBD
The Bruins’ power play carried the offense for much of the second half of the season. How will it react if Krug can’t go? That could be the difference between winning and losing, making it a long series or going out in less than a week. Cassidy will have to decide on a replacement between Krejci, John-Michael Liles and Zdeno Chara. All are different types of a threat than Krug and could change the way the puck moves around the zone, leaving the Bruins to hope they score more 5-on-5. Those odds aren’t great.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets.