By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If and when the National Hockey League returns and concludes their 2019-20 season, there’s a good chance that the Bruins’ status as the league’s best team upon the league’s pause won’t mean a thing.
With the league likely looking at quarantining its players and playing at neutral-site arenas and/or empty arenas, Boston’s home-ice advantage is completely out the window. Same for their rhythm. But that hasn’t changed the expectations of a Black and Gold group that entered the COVID-19 pandemic-caused pause as the league’s sole 100-point team.
“Our standard is to be Stanley Cup champions,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team came one win shy of such a goal last year, noted in a video conference call with the media on Monday. “And that hasn’t changed. It won’t change.”
But the way the Bruins push themselves to that standard may have to be a little different this time around, according to Cassidy, as B’s will most likely have to beat their competition to the punch when it comes to rebuilding their chemistry.
“My expectation, like everyone else’s, is that we gotta be ready in a hurry. We gotta be ready quicker than the next team, and that is very hard to predict because nobody’s ever been through this.”
Honestly, everything about this conclusion to this year (if it comes) is venturing into the complete unknown. Some players could fall back on the 2012-13 lockout-delayed season when it comes to preparing for the task in front of them, but even that was different. During that work stoppage of almost a decade ago, players were suiting up for European clubs or they had access to rinks and informal skates at the very least. This time around, the whole world is basically shut down and the league has extended its self-quarantine period through the end of April, taking those options off the table.
There’s also the fact that there’s no set standard for if and when the league comes back this summer. Nobody knows if teams will have regular-season games to unclog the playoff bubble, if they’ll get some exhibition games to get their legs back, or if they’re going to go right to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they race the clock.
It’s left Cassidy to hope that his players, who are scattered all over the world right now, are treating this break professionally.
“I know our players are excited about this opportunity — and I’m saying that assuming that it’s coming — so I believe that part of it, they’ll be highly motivated to get themselves ready to play,” said Cassidy. “That’s where you hope that guys have taken that to heart and done as best and as most as they can right now.”
But without the benefit of skating on a daily basis (Cassidy has even wondered if they need to send the players some rollerblades to mimic the act), there’s no doubt that things are going to be a little bit dicey out of the gate. Bruins winger Brad Marchand has already jumped out ahead of this one and said that it’ll be “really, really ugly.”
The Bruins may have the concealer to successfully hide such rusty-legged blemishes, however, according to Cassidy.
“I think our team plays a pretty structured game,” Cassidy remarked. “We’re not a loosey-goosey team that just relies on making plays all night to win, so I think that helps us in that regard. That structure can typically be your friend until you get your legs under you. Or it’s your security blanket until you find your offensive game, so that’s the good part about our team.”
In other words, the Bruins are structured to win more ugly 2-1 games than they’ll lose, something that comes back to their team defense and the strong play of both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, which could seemingly give them a leg-up over the “go-go-go” teams within the division such as the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nevertheless, the aches of a potentially quicker ramp-up may hurt the Bruins to some degree. It’d almost be shocking if it didn’t when you consider that their top two centers are in their mid-30s, their left-side top-pairing defender is 43, and Rask turned 33 last month. But Cassidy seems to believe his team is well-equipped enough mentally to fully understand the duties in front of them right now should they put it all together and have a chance to win it all later this summer.
“I do believe some of the veteran guys know they need to stay with [conditioning] because it’s not a switch you can turn on and off. That I believe works to our advantage,” said Cassidy. “Getting your legs under you quicker? Probably a younger guy has less aches and pains the next day. I think it’s the recovery of the older guys we’ve got to monitor as much as anything.
“I just think it’s an unknown — what team will come out the best — simply because no one’s ever been through this.”
And that unknown, should it even come to be, won’t stop the Bruins from giving a revenge tour their best shot.
“Players love their routine and they love the game,” Cassidy said. “Won’t matter where we’re playing, won’t matter the weather outside. They’ll get back at it.”