BOSTON, MA — For the first time since the 1989-90 season, the Bruins will head into the playoffs in possession of the Presidents' Trophy.
Finishing the regular season with the league’s best record is certainly an accomplishment, but at the end of the day, it’s another item to check off the list as the B’s continue the pursuit of their ultimate goal.
“The Presidents' Trophy identifies a team that’s been good for the regular season; the other thing is, it also guarantees home ice as long as you’re in the playoffs,” Head Coach Claude Julien said after Boston beat Buffalo 4-1 in the penultimate game of the regular season. “So those are two things we’re really proud of, but that’s where it stops.”
“The next step is we still got to do some work here in order to get the trophy that we all really want here.”
“It is a nice achievement, that’s for sure, but that wasn’t our goal going into the season,” said forward David Krejci, who finished the day with two goals.
“So one thing that’s good about it is as long as we’re in the playoffs, we’ll be starting at home, so that’s good. But we’re trying to accomplish something different, so we have one more game tomorrow, and we need to play a really strong game and feel good about our game going into the playoffs.”
Saturday’s victory at TD Garden stopped a two-game losing skid and gave the Black & Gold an opportunity to play their type of game — a necessity as they prepare for the playoffs. They came out strong, they got on the board first and they punished the Sabres in the third period in order to maintain their lead.
But it did come at a cost.
Patrice Bergeron did not return for the third period of the game, though Julien deemed it a “very minor” injury. In the third period, Daniel Paille took a thundering hit from Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe in front of the visiting bench. Paille did not return, and Julien did not have an update about his condition immediately after the game.
“With Piesy, I haven’t had a chance to talk yet to my trainers or to the doctors, so I’ll probably see later on here,” Julien said. “[The hit] happened right in front of their bench in an area where I can’t see very well, so I asked one of my coaches. I guess he cut to the middle. I don’t know if it was late or what it was, but I can’t comment on it because I didn’t really see it.”
After suffering two straight shootout losses on the road this week — both of which came after the B’s went into the final two minutes of regulation with leads — Julien talked about a need for this team to rediscover the consistency that allowed it to achieve so much success during a tough March. He said the B’s needed to play with more urgency, and they did that on Saturday, getting on the board first with just over three minutes left in the first period, as Jordan Caron fed it to Gregory Campbell from along the boards and Campbell eluded Sabres goaltender Matt Hackett.
A minute and a half later, Zdeno Chara fired from the point, and Krejci backhanded the rebound top-shelf past Hackett. The goal sent the B’s into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the second frame, Bergeron found the back of the net, extending Boston’s lead to 3-0 and notching his 30th goal of the season. It marked the first time he reached that plateau since 2005-06.
“I think we’re really proud of what he’s accomplished this year,” Julien said. “Thirty goals is quite a feat, and for a guy who excels at both ends of the ice even more so. It takes a heck of a player to be able to score 30 and be so reliable defensively and be as strong at both ends of the ice. That’s an incredible player, in my mind.”
Two minutes later, the Sabres got on the board thanks to Cody Hodgson, who backhanded it past Tuukka Rask.
The Sabres didn’t escape Saturday’s game unscathed, either; Hackett, in visible pain, was taken off the ice on a stretcher about halfway through the third period after a collision with Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in the crease.
“It doesn’t look good right now,” Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan said after the game. “We’re going to wrap him up as best as we can and get him back home, get our doctors to look at him, but it doesn’t look too good right now.”
“I just felt like my feet got kicked out from under me and I landed on his leg. For a second, I thought he was OK, and then he started screaming," said Krug. "So I feel bad. It’s just a tough play.”
Connor Knapp replaced Hackett for the remainder of the game, making his NHL debut.
Krejci rounded out the scoring halfway through the third, when he fired from the high slot and the puck deflected off the boards, then off Knapp’s leg and into the net for the 4-1 lead.
Boston will finish out the regular season in New Jersey on Sunday, having clinched the top seed in the conference and the best record in hockey.
Then, finally, the focus switches to the playoffs.
“After tomorrow, everything is going to start from zero,” Chara said. “It’s something that we certainly are proud of, if you want to say that. We worked really hard this season and we wanted to play as best as we could and I think we accomplished that. But after tomorrow, it’s going to go back to square one.”
“We’ve been pretty good in a lot of areas this year,” Julien said. “That’s been a great regular season, but we’ve got one more game left and then we all know that what everybody calls ‘the real season’ is right around the corner. I’m going to tell you that I’m really happy with the way we handled these 81 games, and hopefully these 82 by tomorrow.”
“But that’s all going to be pushed aside starting Monday.”