By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Bruins’ fans won’t likely soon forget the horrible call referee Tim Peel made in overtime that sent Riley Nash to the penalty box after he took a swipe at Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan – who milliseconds before deposited his elbow into the B’s forward’s face – and just over a minute later, cost the black and gold the game when Ryan himself scored on a deflection just to the right of goaltender Tuukka Rask, giving the Senators the 4-3 win on Monday night.
Back before the NHL became a faster paced version of Disney on Ice – only with sticks and a puck, and just shy of wearing tutus – referees would let the players on the ice determine the outcome of a hotly contested overtime playoff game. However, in the new NHL – the one in which players hardly ever have to pay for cheap hits by being called out to drop their mitts – everything, including a simple off sides call, is over-officiated. As Pierre McGuire said in his analysis in his call of the game for NBCSports, if the official makes any call on that play, both players should go.
That being said that horrendous call is not the reason the Bruins find themselves trailing 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series against the Sens. It is injuries, plain and simple.
Even if Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller and Brandon Carlo were 100% healthy, there would still be holes on the B’s blue line. Defense has been an issue all season for interim head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club, and now with so many back-liners on the sidelines; it has become the issue.
As much as the first three games of this series has been a revelation as to the talent of rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy, it has also been an eye opener as to the lack of depth the Bruins have in their system when it comes to D-men. With the absence of approximately two-thirds of the regular rotation of the Bruins blue-liners, it has forced Cassidy to ask for a lot more from his kids; of which, it appears only McAvoy is ready to deliver.
When you’re asking Joe Morrow – who seemingly has spent the season in moth balls since September – to play over 22 minutes in a playoff game, good things aren’t likely to happen. On top of that, when you ask Tommy Cross – who clearly isn’t ready for the NHL, never mind the playoffs – to play meaningful minutes as well; well, frankly, you are screwed.
Despite the 0-3-1 record against Ottawa in the regular season, there was every reason to believe that the Bruins should win the series and move on to the second round of the NHL’s second season. Nevertheless, when B’s defensemen started falling like shooting targets at the county fair, this series has taken on a much different feeling.
In retrospect, the club should be commended for making this a series at all. Each game has come down to the wire, with Rask closing the door in game one, a game that the Bruins stole; and the last two going to overtime. They played the first two games without center David Krejci – who has a mysterious upper body injury – and has a history of lighting it up in the playoffs, as well.
Krejci only managed one shot on goal in his return to action, but his mere presence lengthens the B’s line up; something they sorely missed in games one and two. However, for as much as they missed their second-line center, the decimation of the defense has been the Bruins Achilles heel.
According to Cassidy – who addressed the media after the team’s practice on Tuesday – Miller is the closest of the four defensemen to returning. Krug is likely done for the series – if not all the playoffs, should the Bruins advance – Carlo is not going to play in Wednesday’s game, and no update was given on McQuaid. As for Miller, the B’s bench boss said he was “better” and the team would know more on Wednesday morning.
"You can't look back on that…that's it."
🎥 Bruce Cassidy provides the latest injury updates and talks about moving past Game 3: pic.twitter.com/ep3zvWXpqv
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 18, 2017
For as much as Bruins’ fans are pissed about the way game three ended, there is a lot to like about what their home team is doing. These types of playoff games are priceless, when it comes to experience for young players like David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and McAvoy; who at 19 years old, looks every bit like a guy who can develop into a franchise defenseman for the next decade and a half.
A two-year absence may have made some hockey fans in Boston forget what a roller coaster ride the playoffs can be. And if you think about it, the series is likely just where it should be after two games in Ottawa and one in the Garden. Both teams have had breaks go for them, and some – like Monday night’s gift power play in OT – go against them.
What the Bruins need most now is not a friendly whistle from an official, it is a clean bill of health – by hockey standards, of course – for the guys who have been missing from their defensive lineup.