TORONTO (AP) — Hockey’s best record in the regular season.
Winless in the seeding round.
The Boston Bruins don’t know what the NHL playoffs hold but, coach Bruce Cassidy says, ”They can’t come soon enough.”
The Bruins earned the Presidents’ Trophy with 100 points before the NHL season was shut down in March. They looked nothing like the best team in hockey when they returned for round-robin play, a performance the team dismissed as irrelevant.
Goalie Tuukka Rask said the three seeding games were just an opportunity ”to shake the rust off” before the ”real hockey.” Forward Brad Marchand called them ”preseason games.”
”I mean, let’s call it what it is: They’re exhibition games for the playoffs,” Marchand said. ”It’s hard to have the same mentality as a playoff series. So we’re not going to base our performance – what it’s going be against Carolina – on that.”
The 0-3 record in the seeding round, sealed with Washington’s 2-1 victory on Sunday, left Boston with the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and a matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes that begins Tuesday night.
”Maybe for us in this case it’s good to get back at it right away,” Cassidy told reporters in a Zoom call on Monday. ”I think the first game … it can’t come soon enough.”
Here are some things to look for in the best-of-seven series against Carolina:
With a quick turnaround after Game 2 on Thursday night followed by a Saturday matinee, there could be an opening for a No. 2 goalie to get a start.
Neither coach would divulge his plans.
Cassidy confirmed that Rask would start the opener but said he wants to see how he recovers. Rask started 41 games this season and two in the seeding round; Jaroslav Halak started 29 before the shutdown and the first game back.
”We haven’t played a lot of hockey,” Cassidy said. ”Does that help him, as he’s more fresh? Or does he need more time in between because he doesn’t play a lot?”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said he planned to use both goalies in the series. Petr Mrazek started the first two games of the 3-0 sweep of the New York Rangers and James Reimer started the clincher in the qualifying round.
”I think we’re in a real good spot that way,” Brind’Amour said. ”Coming in, it was questionable for me, who would be the starter. I kind of saw that now. But we feel pretty confident whichever way we go.”
The teams also met in the playoffs last year, when Boston swept Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals.
”I would hope we’ve grown a lot,” Brind’Amour said. ”I think it’s great we get a chance to play them, technically, in the first round. Might as well get at the best right away. I mean, there’s no point in waiting for it.”
Last year, the Bruins trailed 2-1 early in the third period of the first game of the playoff series before scoring four straight goals to win. They never trailed again, outscoring Carolina 17-5 in all.
”Obviously, we weren’t happy with the last time we played them in the playoffs,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal said. ”We owe them a better series.”
The Bruins won four of the five previous matchups in franchise history, including victories in 1990 and ’91 against the Hartford Whalers.
”Last year is last year,” Cassidy said.
ON THE SHELF
Rask and forward David Pastrnak missed Boston’s practice on Monday. Cassidy said they were ”unfit to participate,” but he expects them to be ready Tuesday.
The Hurricanes are hoping for the return of defenseman Dougie Hamilton, an ex-Bruin who had 40 points in 47 games before breaking his left leg in January. He missed the Rangers series with a different injury.
”I’m hopeful, for sure,” Brind’Amour said. ”It’s a positive sign that he’s practiced with us the last two days. He seems to feel better.”