BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins were on a mission to avenge last season’s heartbreaking Stanley Cup loss in 2020, and they looked like they were well on their way to accomplishing that goal. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, putting a halt to the NHL season and Boston’s quest to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup.
With the NHL announcing its plan to return earlier this week, ending the regular season while giving 24 team a shot at the title in a reformatted postseason, many are already putting an asterisk on the eventual 2019-20 champion. Bruins president Cam Neely, never afraid to tussle when necessary, isn’t having any of that.
“Well, if it’s in a good way,” Neely said on a video conference call with reporters Wednesday. “I don’t see why it’d be in a bad way. We’ve had shortened seasons, whether it’s lockouts or strikes, and had Stanley Cup champions and I don’t recall seeing asterisks besides those years. I don’t see why this isn’t any different.”
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“The playoff format has changed in the history of the NHL. The number of games per round has changed,” noted Neely. “So I still think if you’re going to have play four rounds and beat those teams, I don’t see why there needs to be an asterisk besides the Stanley Cup champion.”
The NHL hasn’t announced how the playoff rounds will be played when the league resumes action, but things will be much different when teams hit the ice again to conclude the season. The top four teams in each conference will play a round robin to determine the top seeds, while there will be a play-in round for the lower seeds (fifth through 12th) to qualify for the first round.
That means the Bruins, who entered the coronarivus hiatus with an NHL-best 100 points, will have to play the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers for the top seed. Boston went 3-3-3 against those teams in the regular season, and with regular season overtime/shootout rules carrying over for the round robin, a shootout loss could determine who gets the top seed in the conference.
That doesn’t seem particularly fair for a Bruins team that was far ahead of the next best teams in the conference (Boston held an eight-point advantage over Tampa Bay for the top spot in the East), and Neely voiced his displeasure with that aspect on Wednesday.
“Obviously a little disappointed with what the team was able to accomplish the first 70 games and kind of the point spread we had between not only the teams in the league, but the teams in our division, our conference. To kind of maybe have three games dictate where we fall in the conference standings is somewhat disappointing,” he said. “But the fact remains these are uncharted times for everybody. We’re just hoping we can eventually get back on the ice and play meaningful hockey games.”
Neely didn’t seem too bummed out by that added wrinkle, confident this Bruins team is ready to take down any obstacle in their way of winning a title.
“We’ve got a group of guys that are very dedicated and committed and know where the team was at the pause and what the possibilities were going into the playoffs,” he said. “Nothing’s a guarantee, as we all know, but I think our guys recognize that we had a legitimate chance to do well and have a deep run in the playoffs.
“Obviously, our goal all along is to win the Stanley Cup, so that goal is not going to change,” he continued. “I think from what I understand talking to some of the guys, they’re anxious and excited. Obviously they still have some questions and some concerns about how all this is going to play out, but everybody still wants to play hockey.”