If there was any doubt about whether or not coach Claude Julien would rest some of his key players down the stretch of the regular season now that the Boston Bruins have clinched the Eastern Conference’s best record the answer has become clearer the past three games. It started in the Bruins 5-2 win last Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Although many of the Bruins regulars played in the game, Julien played his top lines fewer minutes than he has on average during the season. David Krejci and Zdeno Chara for example played about two-minutes less than their average time on ice.
In their last two games, the Bruins have made it evident they are fully invested in getting completely rested for another playoff run. Krejci, Chara, Jarome Iginla, and Patrice Bergeron have each been held out of a game. It is no coincidence that each of those players are leaders in average time on ice for Boston.
Another sign the team has been coasting this last week of the season has been their inability to close out the opposing team, something they have been extremely good at this season. Before back-to-back shootout losses to the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets in their last two games, the Bruins had a stellar record when leading after two periods, 40-2-0. They have also been the NHL’s best team in terms of win percentage when trailing after two periods which speaks to how well the team is at finishing strong in games.
The recent lack of focus late in games is understandable considering the only real thing the team has to play for is the President’s Trophy, but a regular season award is not much of a motivation for a team full of veterans who have won a Stanley Cup. A relatively meaningless late-season game may be tough for the players to get up for, but coach Julien was not using that as an excuse after another lackluster effort from his team.
“Every once in a while, your players will disappoint you and this is one of them. You expected better leadership,” said Julien. “Our top line was by far our worst line and, as a team, we lost races and battles to a team that skated for over an hour yesterday. To me, it showed that there wasn’t much interest in the game tonight.” Julien also added his team needed to put forth a better effort because bad habits, like they have shown by blowing late leads, tend to be hard to break.
While that of course is a concern, the recent lack of interest is not something that will linger around this Bruins team. They have enough veteran leadership up and down their roster that they will be able to up their intensity level once playoff games start. In fact, it would not be a surprise if they put forth a full effort in their final home game today against the Buffalo Sabres. It will likely be the final regular season game for many of the team’s regulars as coach Julien will probably sit out a few players in their final game of the season on the road against the New Jersey Devils tomorrow.