A key injury or two can often give a team a laser focus, causing it to rise above their circumstances to achieve short-term success.
Then there was the situation the Bruins found themselves in Sunday night, when all the undermanned B’s worst fears came true.
With their four best defensemen (Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller) on the shelf, the B’s took a major beating at the hands of the Washington Capitals in a game that felt over midway through the first period, losing 8-1 at the Garden.
No team likes losing like that, especially a team like the Bruins that has been so competitive in recent years. But given the circumstances, coach Bruce Cassidy was not about to take his team to the woodshed after this one, either behind closed doors or in the post-game presser. He said that he and his staff will do the usual evaluations of players but that it would be more helpful to look ahead than behind at the wreckage.
“We’re obviously a team that is trying to A, play through a stretch of hockey and, B, with some new people in the lineup and some young goaltenders. The last thing they need is eight on them,” said Cassidy, who thought of subbing in Jeremy Swayman but decided against it because Swayman had already played three games in the previous five days. “It was a tough one for Dan (Vladar), but the message for him was that he had to battle through it. Our guys in front of him could have done a better job of helping him get through out. But some of them are battling through not being in the league that long, too. … Our start was going to be very important for us. We had to find a way to stay in the game. We weren’t able to do that and it snowballed on us.”
The B’s should get at least one defenseman back for Tuesday’s game against Buffalo, with Miller missing from Sunday’s lineup for maintenance on his troublesome knee. Cassidy also said that McAvoy, who missed his fourth game with an upper body injury, has begun skating and is a possibility for Tuesday. He termed Grzelcyk (upper body) as day-to-day while Carlo is still week-to-week.
Tuukka Rask, who has played just one period in over a month, is continuing to get his on-ice work in, but Cassidy was not ready to give a return date for him.
“We’ll see if he’s ready for Tuesday. He’s obviously getting closer, but I can’t tell you if it’s going to be Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. That’ll be up to the medical team and Tuukka,” said Cassidy. “What we don’t want is what happened last time, he came back in and re-injured himself.”
The only good news for the B’s was that the damage in the standings was minimal. The Rangers picked up a point with an OT loss to the Islanders, pulling them to within four points of the B’s along with the Flyers, who lost in regulation to the Sabres. The B’s have two games in hand on both Philly and the Blueshirts.
Right off the bat, it looked like the B’s knew they would need some sort of intangible vibe to have a chance. Off the opening faceoff, Chris Wagner gamely dropped the gloves with Brenden Dillon, giving away about four inches and 20 pounds and surely trying to inspire his teammates off the hop.
And they got the first power play of the game just 27 seconds in on an Evgeny Kuznetsov slash. Cassidy gave rookie Jack Ahcan, in his second NHL game, a chance to run the top PP unit and it looked predictably out of sync. The fact that David Pastrnak remains searching for his long lost game did not help either. Cassidy had moved him back to the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, presumably to help him shake off whatever’s been slowing him down, but even his old linemates could not provide the boost he needs.
When Sean Kuraly took an obvious interference penalty after losing his stick at 5:49, it all started to fall apart.
In the waning seconds of the PP, T.J. Oshie beat Vladar with a sharp short-side wrister from the bumper spot. Then, just 16 seconds later, Lars Eller made it 2-0. Carl Hagelin gathered a loose puck along the right boards and drew Ahcan (minus-3) to him before dishing to a rushing Eller, who left Anton Blidh standing still and roofed a shot over Vladar’s glove arm.
The only cause for the crowd to cheer was the video tribute to former captain Zdeno Chara played during the first TV timeout. It was the first time Chara had played in front of Boston fans since signing with the Caps.
“It was great for him to have that with the fans,” said his successor Bergeron. “I think they played that video the last time around but there was nobody in the building. It doesn’t have that same feel. I know its only 12 percent capacity, but he deserves that. He’s done so much for the organization and for the game of hockey. He’s still doing that. I thought the fans had a great response and I was happy for him.”
Then, it was back to the beating. The Caps made it 3-0 at 9:42. Steven Kampfer (minus-3) left Conor Sheary all alone off the rush and Dmitry Orlov found him wide open and he beat Vladar for the commanding lead.
Craig Smith scored a power-play goal early in the third, but there was no way they were going to climb their way out of the natural disaster-level sinkhole they had dug for themselves. And to drive that point home, Oshie gave the Caps their six-goal cushion back with his second of the game, and then Eller added his second of the game to really leave a mark.
By that point, all the B’s could do was take the L, move on and hope some better health — and maybe some help by Monday’s trade deadline — was awaiting them.
Said Bergeron: “It’s really important (to look ahead), especially in a season like this when you’re playing every other day and back-to-back, and especially after a game like today. There’s no excuses. It was a very, very poor showing. But that being said, we have to look forward, if there’s video (Monday or Tuesday) look at it and then be ready for Buffalo.”