Even with ‘somewhat disappointing’ round-robin tournament, expectations shouldn’t be tempered for Bruins with new playoff format

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At the end of the day, the glimmer of hope brought on by the announcement of the NHL’s “Return to Play” plan outweighs all of the complexities and concessions that come with adjusting to an unorthodox format in time of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Such was the stance that Bruins president Cam Neely took on Wednesday afternoon when speaking to the media, noting that even with a few shortcomings in the new format — expectations will still be high for a veteran Bruins club that captured the Presidents’ Trophy with a 44-14-12 record. 

“I know we've got a group of guys that are very dedicated and committed and obviously know where the team was at the pause and what the possibilities were going into the playoffs,” Neely said. “Nothing's a guarantee, as we all know, but I think our guys recognized that we had a legitimate chance to do well and have a deep run in the playoffs. 

“Obviously our goal all along is to win Stanley Cups. So that goal is not going to change. I think, from what I understand and talking to some of the guys, they're anxious and excited. Obviously, they still have some questions and concerns about how this is all gonna play out, but everybody still wants to play hockey.”

If/when the NHL can progress past both voluntary workouts (Phase 2) and full training camps (Phase 3) and welcome a revamped postseason tournament, the Bruins will find themselves in an odd spot. 

As the top team, points-wise, in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL as a whole, the Bruins will be able to avoid the best-of-five, play-in round in which 16 of the 24 clubs in the running for the Stanley Cup will duke it out for a chance to advance to the officially first round. 

In order to keep fresh during that play-in round, the Bruins and the other three top seeds in the East — the Lightning, Capitals and Flyers — will all take part in a round-robin tournament as a way to stay fresh and shake off any rust before the playoff field is narrowed down to a traditional 16-team format. 

You won’t find many qualms from the Bruins on such a move, considering the need for these top teams to remain active after months of inaction against opposing teams.

But what’s at stake during that mini, round-robin tournament is what gives Neely some pause.