By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Let's be real: the Boston Bruins had little to prove in Saturday's regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sure, the Bruins could have 'sent a message' to their potential second-round opponent. But what's the use in that? Especially when the Lightning decided to sit multiple regulars (same for the Bruins, actually) with each team locked into their seeding in the Atlantic Division, and with the postseason less than a week away.
If anything, the Bruins just wanted to escape this game unscathed. They did that, too, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy noted after the game -- a 6-3 final that favored the Lightning -- that the Bruins appeared to be OK on the injury front.
So what about the other things Cassidy wanted to potentially learn from this game?
"We talked about certain things that they do similarly to Toronto in terms of neutral-zone rush, defense. For the most part, we did a good job," Cassidy offered. "D-zone against three and four high I thought for the most part we didn’t give up a ton of chances in that area, so that part of the game was good.
"We still found a way to give up five goals, so we’ll look at that. You never want to do that against a good team, but I don’t think it was like these massive breakdowns one after the other. I thought we competed hard offensively to score goals. Their goalie was very good in there, very competitive, so that part was good. Team wise, yeah, we checked some boxes and other ones we didn’t quite hit."
Structurally, the Bruins will certainly find pluses and minuses.
But from a personnel standpoint -- figuring out the second and third line, in particular -- it's worth wondering what Cassidy has in mind entering Game 1. Right now, the odds suggest that it will be David Pastrnak with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on Boston's top line, leaving the right side of the B's second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk to be manned by somebody else.
Cassidy noted that they do have a player in mind there, but added that it will come to light early next week.
Right now, you'd almost have to assume that it's Marcus Johansson. Acquired from New Jersey for this exact role, Cassidy has spent the final week trying to make the Johansson-Charlie Coyle combination a thing. It has yet to yield a goal for either player, and by now, it seems clear that Danton Heinen's best work can and will come to Coyle's left in the postseason.
Karson Kuhlman could be a candidate to Krejci's right, but his presence would almost certainly mean that one of Johansson or Heinen are out of Boston's lineup, which would seem like an odd play out of the gate for Game 1.
Still, there's something to be said for the fact that Kuhlman remained effective away from Krejci today, which has opened the door for a possible role elsewhere on Boston's roster should injuries strike in the first round.
"Everybody is skilled and can make plays," Kuhlman said of moving down to a fourth-line role. "The last couple of games and in Minnesota and here tonight everybody is in different spots so, its just how you play your game. It didn’t make me change anything. I think I just took it shift-by-shift."
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 6-3 final in Boston...
Krejci ties career-high in points
With a goal and an assist in the loss, David Krejci finished the regular season with 73 points, matching a career-high the Czech playmaker set in a tremendous 2008-09 season between Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder.
"The key is to feel good the whole season," Krejci said of matching his career-high "I’ve been playing with some good players this year so they definitely make it easy on me."
The Bolts are really, really, really good
It was a stupid good year for the 2018-19 Lightning, who tied the 1995-96 Red Wings for the most wins in a single season with their 62nd victory of the season behind today's 6-3 win over the Bruins.
"It’s meaningful because we did a lot of things that we had set out to do, we didn’t sit there and circle sixty-two and say that was going to be our number but it’s cool we actually got to that number," Bolts coach Jon Cooper said after his team's victory. "Some players on our team that have meant a ton to us that had some individual goals they got to those which you got to be really happy for those guys in the year we’ve had that those things could happen.
"You need points to get to the playoffs, that’s what we did that’s put us in this spot now," Cooper added. "Now it’s the second season: enjoy this on the flight home and enjoy the day off tomorrow and then its go time on Monday."
Cassidy feels good about matchup with Maple Leafs
So it's on to Toronto for the second year in a row.
It's a matchup the Bruins feel good about, and rightfully so given the way they've handled the Maple Leafs in recent memory, and with Cassidy feeling upbeat about the way his team has handled pretty much everything thrown their way to date.
"Well, I feel terrific," Cassidy said about his feelings entering the postseason for the third straight season. "I’m an optimist. I like our team. We play hard. We’re one of the better teams from start to finish I think in the National Hockey League, specifically the second half of the year. We’ve played well at the right times. We’ve earned our way. Got Toronto, I think it’s a great matchup, great rivalry. Guys should be excited to play. You know, obviously this week hopefully we don’t get any bad news health wise. That’s obviously always a concern, but at the end of the day we’ve played through a lot of different things.
"Hopefully, we get some good news on guys like [Sean] Kuraly and [John] Moore. Sometimes they’re ahead of schedule, so those are the things that I’ll look at this week, but I like where we’re at as a team. Ready to go."
Game 1 will be Thursday night, while Game 2 is expected to be a Saturday night primetime meeting.