No, the Bruins aren't getting 'screwed' by this NHL playoff format

Scott McLaughlin
May 27, 2020 - 12:09 pm

The Bruins are getting screwed! They worked all year to get the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and now they could lose it in some stupid three-game round-robin tournament!

Listen to your team news NOW.

That seems to be the prevailing reaction around these parts when it comes to the NHL’s 24-team return to play postseason format that was officially announced Tuesday afternoon. It’s what NESN play-by-play man Jack Edwards said on Ordway, Merloni and Fauria Tuesday, and it’s an opinion other hosts, writers and fans have shared too.

Cry me a river.

Is this what we do in Boston now? Blue-collar tough town? Home of the big, bad Bruins? The B’s might actually get a chance to salvage a great season and make a Stanley Cup run after all, and we’re going to complain about the format?

Sure, having to play this round-robin tournament may not be ideal, but none of this ideal. Suspending the season for four or five months isn’t ideal. Canceling the rest of the regular season isn’t ideal. Playing without fans isn’t ideal. Moving everyone to hub cities instead of playing in their home arenas isn’t ideal. News flash: Life during a pandemic isn’t ideal.

There’s still no guarantee these playoffs even actually get played. But if they do, the Bruins and their fans should be thankful just to get any chance, under any format, to win the Stanley Cup this year. They have a great team, but with an aging core they may not get too many more real cracks at this in coming years.

Having this postseason be completely canceled? Now that would be a tough pill to swallow for the Bruins and their fans. If this group doesn’t win another Cup, we’d always be left wondering if this could’ve been the year.

If this postseason gets played and the Bruins get knocked out early, there will probably still be some questions about whether things would’ve been different if the format was different, if they didn’t lose their top seed, if they had gotten to play at home, if there were fans, etc. But at least they had a chance. At least they got to decide it on the ice.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said on Dale and Keefe a few weeks ago that he thinks winning the Cup this year might require even more mental toughness than a normal year given the unprecedented challenges of coming back from this long of a break and playing in such a different environment, with no crowd energy to feed off.

He’s right. And a team that’s so mentally weak that it lets a different format or different seeding derail its Cup dreams probably wasn’t worthy of winning the Cup in the first place.

To their credit, the Bruins don’t seem to be that team. We’ve heard from Cassidy and a number of players throughout this break, and none of them have sounded like they’re wallowing in self-pity, lamenting that their momentum and home-ice advantage are now gone. If there’s been one over-arching message, it’s that they just want to get back on the ice and have a chance to win the Cup.

Heck, they didn’t even vote against this proposal. They could have sent a message. They could have used their vote to express their displeasure like the Lightning and Hurricanes did. But they didn’t. The Bruins voted in favor of this proposal because they just want to play and they understand that an imperfect format is better than nothing.

They also understand that they don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines or only playing scrimmages while seeds five through 12 play intense, best-of-five play-in series. If putting the top seed on the line is what it takes to ensure you play meaningful games before the conference quarterfinals begin, then so be it.

Former Bruins goalie and current NESN analyst Andrew Raycroft said as much Wednesday on Dale and Keefe, saying that if he were a player right now he’d actually be in favor of having these round-robin, pre-quarterfinal games mean something.

“Originally you look at it and you’re like, ‘They’re first overall and they could lose out’ and everything else,” Raycroft said. “But I think the reality is that they want to have games that mean something rather than a scrimmage. If you’re just playing preseason games and you’re not able to get that competitive juice going, I think you’re at a major disadvantage when the top eight happens.”

There’s no such thing as home-ice advantage at this point anyway. There’s also no guarantee that teams are going to play like the teams they were pre-break, so seeding may be even less relevant than usual, and we know that seeding already tends to be less relevant in the NHL than in other sports.

So, get over it. Be happy we even get the Stanley Cup Playoffs at all. The Bruins’ success or failure is going to be determined by what they do on the ice, not the format or seeding.

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