BOSTON (CBS) — “The biggest game of the year” is a bit of a misnomer. After all, the idea that one game in an 82-game season can mean more than another is illogical, considering each and every game offers the same opportunity to gain two points in the standings.
But the difference with games in the final week of the season is that everything is on the table, the stakes are known before the team bus arrives at the rink, and the pressure increases accordingly.READ MORE: I-Team: High School Failure Rates In Massachusetts Jumped During Pandemic
And so, when the puck dropped for the Bruins in Washington on Wednesday night, they knew that they needed to bring a playoff mind-set.
Instead, they seemed to be in a preseason state of mind. Or perhaps it was their offseason mentality.
Whatever it was, if it happens again, it’ll be curtains for the Bruins as we know them.
The only — only — positive development for the Bruins from Wednesday night is that they have no time to stew on the loss. And though the Panthers will not willfully roll over at the sight of the Bruins on Thursday evening, their goaltender might. The Bruins are 2-0-1 this year against Florida, a team that’s out of the playoff race at the moment, so in theory, there should be reason enough to believe the Bruins can save their season down in Sunrise.
But after that display in Washington, it’s hard to believe much of anything is possible from this group. From top to bottom, the Bruins simply panicked against the Capitals.
The head coach panicked by constructing arguably the worst lines possible, given the roster at his disposal. He broke up the lines that were working, he essentially neutered Carl Soderberg by putting him on a line with Gregory Campbell, and, well, he played Gregory Campbell.
The reason for dressing Campbell at this critical juncture can only be explained by his positive faceoff win percentage, as his 53.6 percent performance at the dot is second on the team only to Patrice Bergeron (60.1 percent). Yet Campbell’s presence still begs two questions:READ MORE: 'Had A Heart Of Gold': Construction Worker Killed In Newton Identified As Russell Harron
If he’s only on the ice to win faceoffs, why is the man with six goals and six assists in 70 games skating 15 minutes and 30 seconds in a game of this magnitude?
And what good are his faceoff wins, really, if he’s posting nearly impossibly bad possession numbers? He has by far the worst mark on the team, with only Daniel Paille in his stratosphere.
Essentially, there are only three forwards in the entire NHL (Manny Malhotra, Drew Miller, Paul Gaustad) whose teams get outshot more during their time on the ice than Gregory Campbell, and that’s despite his positive faceoff win percentage.
Yet Claude Julien called Campbell’s name for 18 shifts and 15:30 of ice time, which was the fourth-highest among Boston forwards. Ryan Spooner, he of the seven goals and seven assists in 15 games in March, played just 13:14. David Pastrnak, he of the 10 goals and 16 assists in the 35 games after the new year, played just 11:18. And some of that time was spent on a line with Campbell.
It was a pure panic move from the coach, and the effect made its way through the lineup. Players weren’t sure with the puck. Passes didn’t hit tape. Defensive assignments were missed. And though Milan Lucic had one Grade-A opportunity, they did very little to make life difficult for Braden Holtby, who now officially owns the Boston Bruins. The Bruins fell behind five minutes into the game and never really showed any signs of life after that.
Julien said pregame that he expected it to be a “man’s game.” It sounded almost like a challenge to his roster to step up and play its best game of the year. The response can only be categorized as a failure.
With the Ottawa Senators surging, having gained 41 of a possible 46 points in their last 23 games, the Bruins halted all the momentum they had gained from their own five-game winning streak. They did nothing well against the Capitals, in a game that should have been played with supreme focus and precision. As a result, they face a must-win in Florida on Thursday.
But “must-win” only matters if a team plans on actually doing something in the playoffs. On Wednesday, the Bruins offered zero signs of being able to do that.MORE NEWS: 'I Don't Want To Be A Vigilante': Mikayla Miller's Mother Demands Justice At Hopkinton Rally