Penguins make it, Bruins come up short on season's frantic final day
The Bruins were the skating dead long before they got around to losing 3–2 in the shootout to the Lightning on Saturday night. Their dismal season was brought to a merciful end about half an hour earlier when the Penguins knocked off the Sabres to clinch the second and final wild card berth in the East.
Boston came into the final week of the campaign needing to win two of three on the road to stave off the Senators and maintain the playoff spot the Bruins had held virtually the entire season. Unable to muster an appropriately desperate response, they were swept to the curb, scoring all of four goals in the process—an all too predictable result for a team couldn’t hit the net all season long, finishing 22nd with a 2.55 goals-per-game average.
At least they made a little history in the process. The B’s will go into the books as the first team to amass more than 95 points and still miss the playoffs.
And so instead of a first-round date with the blueshirted juggernaut from New York, the Bruins will have to settle for a one-in-100 chance of winning the draft lottery next Saturday night and a long summer spent counting the casualties of their failure.
There’s a good chance that GM Peter Chiarelli will be the first to pay the price, although that would be as much for his bungling of the salary cap and some ill-conceived contract extensions as for this failed season. Coach Claude Julien could be gone too, although having recently signed an extension it might be more palatable to retain him than pay him to sit at home. And the roster should see a significant overhaul as well, with one or more of the heroes of the 2011 Stanley Cup run likely to be sacrificed in the name of getting younger and faster.
Given the frustrations expressed by ownership earlier this season, the blood could start flowing as soon as Monday.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, a relieved Sidney Crosby got busy applying lipstick to the pig.
“Hopefully we can build on this,” he said after the sluggish Pens punched their postseason ticket with that 2–0 win over the Sabres. “It doesn’t matter how you get in [the playoffs], you just gotta get in there.”
Actually, it does kind of matter. The prize earned by Crosby and the Penguins for their 2-4-1 finish was a chance to line up against the Rangers, the team with the NHL’s top overall record as well as the one that eliminated Pittsburgh in the second round of last season’s playoffs.
It’s a lousy matchup, but at least they’ll be able to ice a full roster when they get there. Freed of the constraints of the salary cap, the Pens can dress six defensemen, which is one more than they’ve had at their disposal in five of the season’s last seven games.
Not to overly praise GM Jim Rutherford here—it was his bungling of the cap that left the blueline shorthanded in the first place—but he looks good for bringing in Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole at the deadline. Though both veterans have their issues with defensive awareness at times, they carried heavy loads down the stretch, adding better than 6:30 and 7:30, respectively, to their average time on ice to make up for the missing man.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only area where the Pens have stepped up lately. Saturday was the 15th consecutive game that Pittsburgh’s declawed offense has scratched out three goals or fewer, a trend that does not portend postseason success. Evgeni Malkin is without a goal in 10, David Perron has been dry for 12 and Chris Kunitz has one in his past 21. If not for the uniformly excellent play of Marc-André Fleury, whose 10th shutout of the season denied Carey Price a sweep of the four main stat categories for goalies, there’d be little reason to predict anything other than a sweep by New York.
And in Dallas, Jamie Benn completed a most improbable run to the Art Ross Trophy with a four-point effort in the Stars 4–1 win over the Predators. Benn scored Dallas’ first three goals to pull himself into a tie with the Islanders’ John Tavares at 86 points late in the third, then earned the clinching assist when a Viktor Stalberg clearing pass bounced off his skate and onto the stick of Trevor Daley who beat Carter Hutton with 8.5 seconds remaining.
Benn finished with 23 points over his final 12 games, including back-to-back four-point efforts to become the first player in franchise history to win the scoring crown.
Quite a conclusion to the regular season. And to think, the real fun doesn’t kick off until Wednesday.