The Bruins enter Sunday's round-robin finale against the Capitals without a win to their name since arriving in the Toronto bubble. Two of their losses (Columbus in an exhibition game and Philadelphia in the round-robin opener) were of the lopsided variety.
They finally looked better against Tampa Bay on Wednesday, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game, but the end result was still another loss thanks to a late defensive breakdown.
While the round-robin tournament isn't really playoff hockey since no one's getting eliminated, you'd still rather win a couple games, or at least one, before going into the real thing in a few days.
Add in the fact that the Bruins haven't been able to play with their full lineup yet -- something they'll finally get to do Sunday with Ondrej Kase set to play his first game -- and it's fair to wonder just what the team's mindset is right now. Are guys feeling down? Or are they still feeling positive and excited?
According to coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins' heads are still in a good space.
"Our guys are not in a bad place. They’re really not," he said. "We want to win. We want to play better. We wanted to preserve the No. 1 seed. We have a veteran group that knows what the ultimate goal is and what’s at stake. They know that come Tuesday or Wednesday -- I assume we’ll open one of those two days -- they know how to play playoff hockey. So as a coach, yes I haven’t been around as long as they have, but I do know my team pretty well, and I feel like we’re trending in the right direction. I see energy in practice now the last couple days."
Cassidy said he also thinks it helps that things are coming more into focus and a real first-round series is becoming more tangible. The Bruins' situation heading into Sunday's game is clear: win and face the Islanders in the first round, or lose and face the Hurricanes.
Cassidy said he wants to see the Bruins continue to build on the better effort Wednesday and get closer to playoff-caliber hockey, but he also noted that it's impossible to ignore the fact that this still isn't an elimination series.
"It’s the Islanders or Carolina, so there’s a team to start thinking about, to start to dislike," Cassidy said. "That’s part of what gets the juices flowing. I think you’ll see more energy tomorrow, but I also think you could see pockets of the game for both teams where it’s like, the real stuff starts Tuesday or Wednesday so we have to be a little bit careful. Hopefully it’s not for long stretches and only the odd shift here or there, but I still think you’ll see some of that baked into the game tomorrow, for both teams, at times."
Another sign that this isn't quite the real thing yet is one of Cassidy's lineup decisions. Connor Clifton, who has not seen any game action in Toronto yet, will get into the lineup Sunday, with Matt Grzelcyk getting a "maintenance game off." Cassidy had said before that he was considering that because he wanted to get Clifton into at least one game since he would be one of the first guys up if there were an injury on the blue line.
Besides that, though, the Bruins will finally have their full lineup, including Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Jaroslav Halak, who all returned to practice Saturday after being "unfit to participate" Friday. That means Cassidy will finally get to deploy a second line of Kase, Krejci and Jake DeBrusk that he had been wanting to try for weeks now. Tuukka Rask will start in net and Cassidy said the plan is to play him the full game.
Here is the Bruins' expected lineup:
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David PastrnakJake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Ondrej KaseNick Ritchie - Charlie Coyle - Anders BjorkJoakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoyTorey Krug - Brandon CarloJeremy Lauzon - Connor Clifton
Tuukka RaskJaroslav Halak