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Saturday, April 9, 2016

With Everything to Play For, Rask Sits Out (Illness) & B's Predictably Fall Flat on Their Face


Before the all-important game against the Senators (38-35-9) had even started this afternoon, you knew that something was up when the Bruins (42-31-9) called up goaltender Jeremy Smith from Providence on an emergency basis. Apparently Tuukka Rask was very sick and after taking a few shots during warm-ups, he simply couldn't continue. He left for the dressing room, never to be seen again today (and possibly much longer this off-season). If you can believe it, things only got worse from that ominous beginning as Ottawa blasted Boston 6-1 in the regular season finale at TD Garden.

This isn't to say that backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (30 saves) is solely to blame for the loss. In fact, I don't think the outcome wouldn't have been any different with Rask in goal since Boston's terrible defense had to remind everyone once more just how hopeless they were for most of this campaign. Plus the B's finished under .500 at home this season (17-18-6; only other Eastern Conference teams to do that were Buffalo and Toronto). Still, if it was just an illness (bad sushi?) for Rask-the franchise goaltender-you can understand why he'll be hammered on the radio and TV for months if not years to come around here.

The Bruins actually scored first as David Pastrnak made it 1-0 at 5:04 (the second straight game that he'd opening the scoring) on a goal that looked offside but it was reviewed and held up for once. Brad Marchand and Max Talbot assisted on Pastrnak's 15th goal of the season as he got behind Ottawa's defense and then beat Andrew Hammond (39 saves) upstairs. Boston led 1-0 after the first period but they were outshot 17-10 so you knew that eventually the roof would cave in if they kept allowing that many quality chances.

Sure enough, the mighty Senators (who had nothing to play for but pride) hit the B's with a flurry of four goals in a span of 8:18 in the second period to put it way out of reach already. It was a microcosm of Boston's disappointing season as goon Chris Neil outhustled them to jam in the tying goal at 1:42, Nick Paul and Ryan Dzingel assisted on his fifth goal of the season. After that, Ottawa scored three virtually identical goals all on re-directed shots. Zach Smith tipped in Erik Karlsson's shot at 5:54 for his 24th goal of the season and Karlsson's NHL-leading 66th helper with Fredrik Claesson picking up the second assist. Less than three minutes later, Puempel re-directed a pass from Phil Varone with Buddy Robinson (are those real people?) for his second goal of the season. Mika Zibanejad put the final nail in Boston's coffin by tipping in a pass from Mike Hoffman at 10:00 for his 21st goal of the season. Bruins head coach Claude Julien took his timeout but by then, it was long over and you have to feel the same way about his storied tenure in Boston (remember he is the team's all-time winningest coach).

Other than rookie defenseman Colin Miller's fight with Mike Kostka, the Black and Gold showed barely a pulse or any semblance of heart in the third period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Smith both added empty-netters as Julien tried to coax a goal out of his power play unit but nothing worked in this miserable performance for his club. Ironically, Detroit (41-30-11) lost 3-2 at the Rangers (46-27-9) this afternoon which meant that a Bruins win would have gifted them third-place in the Atlantic Division. Instead the Red Wings clinched a playoff spot for the 25th straight season (extending their American pro sports record). Now the B's are down to their last hope: they need the Flyers (currently tied 1-1 at Pittsburgh in the second period) to lose today and also tomorrow night at the Islanders (45-26-9). If Philly is able to scratch together two points between those two tilts, they will get the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference and the rough prize of the Capitals (55-17-8) in the first-round of the playoffs.

If Boston doesn't get that aforementioned miracle and they miss the postseason for the second year in a row, there is no chance that Julien keeps his job here again, right? Clearly, it is not all his fault that the front office made some terrible moves (trading for Jimmy Hayes, not having more NHL-ready defensemen, etc) and many of his players underperformed but he tapped dance past the firing line last summer and I don't think that he could make that magic happen again, especially so soon thereafter. This franchise has so many issues at the moment but unfortunately for Cladue, getting rid of him would be the easy first move for GM Don Sweeney.


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