By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
For the first time in league history, the Presidents' Trophy winner will not be the top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Entering Wednesday's in a must-win situation to keep their hopes for the No. 1 seed alive, the Bruins instead saw a Tyler Johnson goal with a minute and a half left in the third period break their back and a 2-2 tie, and officially render the team incapable of finishing in either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in this year's postseason.
How's that for 2020?
The simple math here goes as follows: Thanks to Wednesday's loss, the Bruins can now max out at two points. And with the win, the Lightning already have four points. No matching 'em for the top spot in the East now. Over in the Metro, the Flyers have two points thanks to their Sunday win over the Bruins, and the Capitals have a single point thanks to their shootout loss to the Lightning on Monday. The B's, of course, are still sitting at zero. And with the Flyers and Capitals set to play on Thursday, one of those teams is guaranteed to have at least three points by that game's end. The Bruins, of course, cannot match that, making No. 2 an impossibility for Bruce Cassidy's squad.
"Well that part sucks, I’m not going to lie to you," Cassidy said of losing the No. 1 seed. "But, that’s the situation this year with the stoppage of play. We knew the rules going into it. That we would lose a bit of the advantage we’d gained. We are where we are now. We’re just trying to win a hockey game right now, get our game together for 60 minutes so that we can be at our best."
So, now what?
The Bruins could still make their way out of the round-robin basement and finish with the No. 3 seed. But they'll need help.
No matter what happens elsewhere, the Bruins will need to win Sunday's head-to-head with the Caps to have a chance at the No. 3 seed. This is a gigantic ask when you consider Boston's history with Braden Holtby and the Caps, with Washington winning 16 of the last 18 head-to-heads over the last six seasons, but the Bruins did pummel the Capitals by a 7-3 final in their season series finale back on Dec. 23. So, maybe there's some lingering confidence there.
But assuming the Bruins take care of business against the Capitals, the Bruins would need the Capitals to go 0-1-1 or 0-2-0 over their next two games (that includes the necessary loss to the Bruins), or have the Flyers go 0-2-0 over their final two. Should either one of those happen (it's important to note that it's impossible for both to happen), the Bruins would be tied with the Flyers or Capitals at two points, and thus hold a tiebreaker edge (regular-season point percentage) over either Metro rival.
Asking for help from another team is never easy. This is no exception.
We can piss and moan about the format all we want, too, and perhaps rightfully so given the B's lead on the No. 1 seed at the time of the pause, but the truth is that the Bruins were given pretty favorable odds. If they were who they were during the regular season, taking two-of-three in a three-game round robin wasn't going to be an impossible task. The tiebreaker also favored the league-best Bruins. Also: If you're asking me if I'd rather have some sort of round-robin tournament or go right to postseason contests after four and a half months off, I'd pick the round-robin every damn time. Still.
And as frustrating as 70 games of work being flushed down the drain in 120 minutes may be, the B's aren't sweating their situation.
"This is one year I do believe the seeding is less relevant than others," Cassidy admitted. "I think everyone has discussed that. Would. I have rather been number one seed? Absolutely, keep it. That’s not going to happen so like I said, we’ll get ready for Washington and play the best game we can and prepare for the postseason."
If the Bruins remain locked in the fourth seed, they will play either the Carolina Hurricanes or the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of this year's postseason. The No. 6 seed Hurricanes swept the Rangers in their play-in qualifying round, while the No. 5 seed Penguins are currently down 2-1 in their play-in series against the No. 12 seed Canadiens.
Boston's goal remains the same no matter the luck (or lack thereof) that comes with their eventual draw, too.
"If you want to make a run in the playoffs you have to beat every team anyways," B's netminder Tuukka Rask offered. "The situation is what it is. I think the worst case that’s going to happen is we’re going to lose the locker room in our practice rink so that’s about it. I really don’t care where we finish. We just have to focus on our game and try to improve that come Sunday and going into next week. You got to beat everybody anyways, so, whatever."
"We have to win 16 games," said Cassidy. "We knew that going in. That will still be our goal."
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.