It’s not the way the Detroit Red Wings would have drawn it up, but they’re heading to the post-season for the 25th consecutive season after the Boston Bruins fell 6-1 to the Ottawa Senators in the final game of their respective campaigns.
The Red Wings bounced in and out of the post-season over the final month of the season, and in their final game of the campaign they needed a victory of their own or a loss by the Bruins in order to land in the playoffs. While Detroit was unable to complete the comeback and lost 3-2 to the New York Rangers, the Bruins couldn’t make good on their own chance to control their fate.
Before the puck had even dropped Saturday, though, the Bruins knew a tough task lay ahead them as goaltender Tuukka Rask was unable to play in the game due to an illness. With Rask out and clinching a post-season berth on the line, the Bruins turned to goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and made an emergency recall of netminder Jeremy Smith.
The contest started well for the Bruins when five minutes into the first frame David Pastrnak netted the game’s opening goal on a partial breakaway, and though the goal was challenged for a potential offside, it stood and gave Boston a 1-0 lead. As the game went on, though, the wheels came off for the Bruins, and in the second period the Senators all but crushed Boston’s playoff hopes.
Less than two minutes into the second frame, Ottawa’s Chris Neil scored on a jam play in front of the Bruins’ net, and that began a Senators onslaught. Neil’s goal was followed by a Zack Smith tally, and Matt Puempel netted his second goal of the campaign less than three minutes later to give Ottawa a 3-1 edge. Only 1:21 after Puempel scored, Mika Zibanejad added to the lead with his 21st goal of the season. In less than 8:30, the Bruins had gone from leading the Senators to trailing by three goals.
By the time the midway mark of the third period hit, things looked bleak for the Bruins and coach Claude Julien pulled Gustavsson for an extra attacker during the power play. The Senators would twice net empty net goals before the game was through, and the Bruins skated off the ice to a chorus of boos from fans inside Boston’s TD Garden. The disappointment was obvious, but the loss doesn’t mean the Bruins can’t still sneak into the post-season. However, if the Philadelphia Flyers earn at least two points in their final two games of the season, the Bruins will be on the outside looking in.
To top it all off, the loss will sting extra for Boston — and be a relief for Detroit — because the Red Wings’ worst-case scenario was a regulation loss, and that was exactly the result Saturday.
Detroit took an early lead on a Joakim Andersson goal only to watch as it was called back due to an offside, and before the first period was up Rangers blueliner Dan Boyle scored to put the Red Wings on the ropes. The Red Wings scored to level the game in the second when Riley Sheahan, Detroit’s net front presence on the power play, had a puck careen off of him in front of Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta and find the back of the net.
The game was back and forth in the third period, but Kevin Hayes scored to put the Rangers up 2-1 with less than six minutes remaining and Oscar Lindberg scored an empty-net marker to give the Rangers a much-needed two-goal cushion. Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader scored to make it 3-2, but that would be the final score. Even with the loss, though, Detroit was able to back into the third seed in the Atlantic Division.
Because the Red Wings have locked up the third seed in the Atlantic, the first playoff matchup of the season has become official. In a rematch of last season’s first-round series, Detroit will square off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round.