When Bruins coach Claude Julien scripted his game plan for Tuesday night’s showdown against Philadelphia, he did not plan on putting his postseason goaltender into action. He also had no intentions of busting up his most consistent line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. Julien wanted to give his power-play units some reps, not rearrange his personnel.
But after his team allowed two goals in a seven-second span, Julien’s only choice was to grab his team by the collar.
Tuukka Rask, who could have benefited from a night off, was in goal. Seguin was off Bergeron’s line. Milan Lucic and Gregory Campbell, usually man-advantage spectators, rolled over the boards for power-play work in place of Marchand and Seguin. The Bruins continued to doze and left Philadelphia with a 5-2 millstone around their necks.
Tuesday’s game was supposed to be an opportunity for the Bruins to check off some things on the action plan they had sketched up for the week.
Rask could have had a 60-minute breather. With Montreal losing to New Jersey, the Bruins could have claimed a 2-point advantage over the Canadiens with a win. They could have properly evaluated Wade Redden and Carl Soderberg, two bubble players clawing for a playoff roster spot. They could have added to their confidence by playing well against a Philadelphia club featuring NHL unknowns such as Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen.
But now they’re left doubting themselves as they close out the regular season with three games in four nights (Tampa Bay on Thursday, Washington on Saturday, Ottawa on Sunday).
“We were making some strides forward,” said defenseman Zdeno Chara, who fought the puck against the Flyers. “Obviously we took a few steps back again.”
The Bruins’ first step will be to repair the damage from Philadelphia. No team wants to enter the playoffs with bad habits stuck in their sticks and heads. Starting against the Lightning, the primary tasks will be to manage the puck, establish the forecheck, and play more efficiently in center ice — all things they failed to execute Tuesday.
The Bruins repeatedly handed the puck over to the Flyers. They didn’t cover the Flyers when they entered the Boston zone with speed. They ceded the neutral zone.
The Flyers may be young on the back end, but they have varsity talent up front in Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, and Matt Read.
“They’ve got a good offense,” said Julien. “You’ve got to give them credit for that. We talked about it before the game. We had to make sure we took care of their offense.
“If we defended well and if we could spend some time in their own end, we thought they were a little inexperienced back there. If we managed the puck and were strong on it, we had a good chance.
“But their D’s played hard and were more determined than the rest of our team was.”
The Bruins have roster decisions to make for the playoffs. If Nathan Horton (upper body) is healthy, the right wing most likely will skate with Lucic and Krejci. Rich Peverley, who has taken most of Horton’s shifts in the last two games, could drop down to the No. 3 line with Chris Kelly and Jaromir Jagr. Soderberg could start the postseason as a healthy scratch.
If Horton can play in the last three regular-season games, the Bruins will have to determine whether they can count on their former power line. Lucic, Krejci, and Horton have not had any regular rhythm in the past month. There is no guarantee they will bust their slump in the playoffs.
On defense, Redden, Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, and Adam McQuaid are fighting for third-pairing jobs. Redden scored his first goal as a Bruin Tuesday. Bartkowski, a healthy scratch against the Flyers, must prove that his skating and physical play can trump Redden’s veteran presence and puck-moving ability.
McQuaid has the inside line on the No. 5 position because of his experience. But with the Bruins unable to score consistently, Hamilton’s offensive touch could come into play.
The Bruins also need points to close out the regular season. They are in second place in the Eastern Conference, but Montreal and Toronto could jump them. The Bruins do not want to start the first round on the road.
The Bruins will not be fresh heading into the playoffs. Two of their final three games were rescheduled. Thursday’s game against the Lightning should have taken place Feb. 9. Sunday’s regular-season finale against Ottawa originally was scheduled for April 15.
Had this been a normal season, the Bruins would have only Saturday’s road game against Washington remaining.
Any talk of fatigue, however, doesn’t sit well with Julien.
“We have to take responsibility and quit hiding behind those excuses,” Julien said. “Because it is a load of crap.”