BOSTON -- The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Saturday night, and with it clinched the final playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Three hours earlier, at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers finished off a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The Flyers game shouldn't have been a concern for Bruins fans; after all, Detroit lost and the Bruins should have clinched third place in the Atlantic Division. All they needed to do was beat Ottawa on Saturday afternoon.
But, the Bruins didn't. Instead, in front of yet another disappointed, frustrated and somewhat hostile crowd at TD Garden, the Bruins grabbed their season by the neck, threw it into the toilet and watched as it flushed away.
There was no Tuukka Rask for the Bruins this afternoon due to illness. Jonas Gustavsson, who began the season by entering training camp without a guaranteed contract, was given the start. Jeremy Smith, who began his American Hockey League season being loaned to the Iowa Wild in Des Moines, Iowa, received a police escort up I-95 to serve as the teams backup. Simply the beginning to a truly bizarre day.
Gustavsson, who hadn't started a game in over three weeks, played well. He stopped all 17 shots Ottawa fired his way in the opening frame.
"I thought Gus made some big saves for us," coach Claude Julien said. "He really held us in there. We were fortunate to come out with a 1-0 lead."
The Bruins shortcomings, this afternoon, were no fault of the goaltenders. They were self-inflected, marked by several defensive breakdowns in their own zone.
The second period, for Boston, is where it unravelled. Ryan Dzingel burned Colin Miller down the right wing and behind the net, before feeding the puck in front where neanderthal Chris Neil tapped in his fifth goal of the year. Bobby Ryan outworked Kevan Miller behind the net, keeping Ottawa's possession alive. They capitalized, with Zack Smith deflecting an Erik Karlsson shot past Gustavsson. Just 2:45 later, a backchecking lapse allowed Matt Puempel ample space in the slot. Puempel tipped a Phil Varone pass into the net, making it 3-1 Senators and prompting the Garden crowd to begin booing as if someone was paying them a lot of money to do so.
Adam McQuaid's turnover 1:21 later proved to be the final blow. His pass, intercepted by Mike Hoffman, led to a Mika Zibanejad tap-in, and the Bruins were down 4-1 after a span of ten brutal, disastrous and embarrassing minutes of hockey. The boos, again, rained down heavily.
When David Pastrnak's opening goal, his 15th, that was maybe or maybe not but probably offsides goal was challenged and upheld, it seemed like this would be the Bruins day. After all, they could have used the luck, what with Rask succumbing to illness and a pregame awards ceremony that had the grace and glamour of a naked man eating bananas in broken down, rusted old van parked on the side of the highway. Though, perhaps they should have been seen as a foreshadow for the inevitable letdown that befell the Bruins in the second period.
After all, the Bruins were lucky to be leading 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. Despite brief bursts of energy -- sparked by a strong first frame from youngsters Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano -- the Bruins trailed Ottawa 17-11 in shots.
"We had a lead, but we knew we had to be better," captain Zdeno Chara said following the defeat. "Obviously they scored a quick of couple of goals, and that's when the first period seemed to catch up to us."
When asked if Boston's inability to play strongly in back-to-back games, Chara shook his head and responded "I wish I had an explanation."
If there was anything we knew about this Bruins team heading into Saturday, is that you can never truly know what to expect from this Bruins team. They're consistently inconsistent. At least, they were. Their inconsistencies and lack of a supporting cast ultimately sunk them. Now, for the second straight year, they'll be golfing instead of fighting their way through April and May.
For Julien, who knows what the future holds. He should return next Fall, but management will likely point the finger toward the franchises all time winningest coach, rather than at themselves. Julien doesn't assemble the roster, he can only work with what's provided. This year he did, getting more mileage than, most likely, any other coach in the NHL would have. Yet, he's still likely to be on the hook. It makes no sense and it's foolish that one of the leagues top coaches is on the hot seat, but life can be cruel that way.
The Bruins had a simple task on Saturday: win. They didn't, and for the second straight year, a franchise with a handful of the games top players, is on the outside looking in.
You can follow Nolan Cardwell on Twitter @mvpbaseball2003 or not. It's totally up to you.