The Boston Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing 3-2 in double overtime in Game 5 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series Monday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern hub city.
Despite finishing with the best points percentage in the NHL (.714) during the regular season and going 16-4-0 in its final 20 games before the season was paused March 12 due to the concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the Bruins fell to the No. 4 seed in the East after going winless in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Here’s a look at what happened during the 2020 postseason for the Bruins and why things could be even better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Joakim Nordstrom, C; Zdeno Chara, D; Torey Krug, D; Kevan Miller, D
Potential restricted free agents: Jake DeBrusk, F; Karson Kuhlman, C; Matt Grzelcyk, D, Jakub Zboril, D
Potential 2020 NHL Draft picks: 5
What went wrong
Gone goalie: Not only did the Bruins have the best 1-2 punch in goal during the regular season, they had one of the top three goalies in the NHL in Tuukka Rask, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (26-8-6, 2.12 goals against average, .929 save percentage, five shutouts). But on Aug. 15, Rask opted out of the playoffs because of a family emergency. Jaroslav Halak, who combined with Rask to win the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the regular season (167), took over. Though Halak was fine (2.76 GAA, .902 save percentage), especially in Game 5 against the Lightning, when he made 32 saves in the season-ending loss, he wasn’t Rask.
Seeding slide: Boston won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record in the NHL during the regular season (44-14-12), but slipped to the No. 4 seed in the conference after their three round-robin losses. That meant a second-round matchup against the Lightning (second in points percentage, .657), which did not work out to the Bruins’ advantage.
Vanishing offense: Boston scored 3.24 goals per game during the regular season. In the playoffs, that number dropped to 2.23. It wasn’t enough, especially against a team with the firepower of Tampa Bay even without forward Steven Stamkos. The Bruins struggled to score 5-on-5 in particular, with 17 goals in 13 postseason games. By comparison, they scored 10 on the power play in 45 opportunities (22.2 percent).
Reasons for optimism
A new No. 1: Though it’s unclear what the future is for Chara, the Bruins’ 43-year-old captain and No. 1 defenseman since he joined them as a free agent in 2006, these playoffs made it obvious Boston has an heir to that throne in Charlie McAvoy. The 22-year-old has had two impressive playoff runs the past two seasons, and it was crystal clear this postseason he had surpassed his mentor and taken over as the most important defenseman for the Bruins, with four points (one goal, three assists) in 13 games, leading them with 25:10 in average ice time per game. Chara had two assists in 13 games, playing 19:47 per game.
More Pasta, please: It’s not just David Pastrnak‘s sunny personality that brightens the future for Boston. It’s also a scoring touch that seems to keep getting better. The 24-year-old forward has rounded out his game to match that of his defensively-responsible linemates, center Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Pastrnak tied the Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead with 48 goals, and has scored 379 points (180 goals, 199 assists) in 390 NHL games. He fell five points shy of 100 during the shortened regular season and looks to be motivated to hit that mark, along with targeting 50 goals, next season.
Depth down the middle: Though Bergeron and David Krejci are another year older, Boston seems to finally have the long-sought answer to their need for depth in the center spot with Charlie Coyle, who they signed to a six-year contract extension Nov. 27. Coyle, who struggled with the Minnesota Wild, has been a revelation with his hometown Bruins, especially during the postseason, with five points (three goals, two assists) in 13 games and a face-off winning percentage of 53.3 percent, second on Boston to Bergeron (56.1 percent, minimum 150 face-offs) If center prospects Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic pan out and Bergeron and Krejci continue to fight time, the Bruins are set at the position.