Two days after the Bruins’ season came to a disappointing end up in Toronto, Bruce Cassidy held his annual end-of-the-season press conference via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon — touching on a number of topics, such as the flaws of this current roster, what lies ahead and a note on the injuries impacting his lineup. Here are a few takeaways from Cassidy’s chat:
1. Missing Phase 3 did have a major impact on Pastrnak, Kase
On paper, it would appear as though David Pastrnak picked up right where he left off in March in terms of his production up in the bubble, with the B’s top scorer recording 10 points (three goals, seven assists) over 10 games against both Carolina and Tampa Bay during the postseason.
And yet, it was pretty evident that the winger was far from fully healthy throughout that slate, as Pastrnak missed three games during that opening round against the Hurricanes due to injury.
Even when he was given the green light to return, Pastrnak still wasn’t himself. Sure, he buried a few one-timers (and missed on a few as well), but he was often laboring on the ice, especially when it came to beating Lightning skaters in races to the puck and during transition play.
Speaking on Wednesday, Cassidy confirmed that Pastrnak was banged up for a majority of Boston’s postseason play at Scotiabank Arena, adding that that the winger’s lack of reps during Phase 3 camp at Warrior Ice Arena was pretty noticeable once game action really ramped up.
“I know that Pasta had a lower body injury he played through the whole playoffs,” Cassidy said. "You could see he wasn’t at top speed. Obviously missing time, him and (Ondrej) Kase, their conditioning level wasn’t where it needed to be to stand the rigors of that. And that was a bit of circumstance. Typically you have the whole year to build that up if you miss a bit at the start. We didn’t have that luxury this year.”
Not a lot went right for the Bruins during their five-game exit against Tampa — whether it be lax defensive coverage, 5v5 scoring droughts and of course, the loss of Tuukka Rask in net.
But when it comes to holding personnel accountable for this latest exit, both Pastrnak and Kase shouldn’t escape unscathed when it came to their decision to break quarantine in the days leading up to the club’s two-way training camp back in July.
One has to wonder how a fully prepped and fresh Pastrnak would have fared had he not had to play catch-up during Phase 4 action, while Kase — already a step behind other personnel due to his arrival during the trade deadline — didn’t even get back on the ice in a game setting until the final round-robin matchup against the Capitals back on Aug. 9.
Despite the number of quality chances Kase generated, especially in the early going of this postseason, Boston wanted much more finish from the shot-first winger — who did not tally a goal in his first 17 games in a Bruins sweater. Kase in particular seemed to run out of gas as the second round continued, putting together a pretty listless showing in Game 5 against Tampa that ended with him bumped down to the fourth line.
"The players came back at a certain date for training camp," Cassidy said. "Some of them came back earlier, some later. There was a little bit of uncertainty I'm sure with what was going on with the players as they sort out their deal. And we missed some players in training camp and there's no doubt in hindsight that set them back. I mean if you take a month off when everyone else is skating and then get right into it, we play the exhibition games, three games, there’s some catching up to do."
As far as other injuries on this Bruins team?
“We know Tuukka (Rask) dealt with an injury at the start with his finger,” Cassidy said. “I think he announced that. (Nick) Ritchie had an injury late that – there was a couple guys, (Sean) Kuraly, lower body that weren’t able to play. (Chris) Wagner, that’s a different animal. I don’t want to speculate on his. ... I know that (Patrice Bergeron) and (Brad Marchand) were getting treatments, some wear and tear that they had over the years.
“Certainly, able to play, not making an excuse there. I don’t know if there are going to be any surgeries. I know (Zdeno Chara)’s foot, the last game, he took a blocked shot that I know there was an X-ray situation, so whether there is anything further on that, I have not heard yet. Charlie (McAvoy) is good, he got hit into the boards there but he came back, so he’s fine.”
2. Boston will need to go through Tampa if it wants another shot at the Cup
As we noted on Tuesday, the Bruins' window as a legitimate Cup contender is not completely shut — not yet at least — but this franchise is going to have to come to grips with some hard truths if it wants to put together one more run with this veteran core.
One of those is the need for Don Sweeney and his staff to go all in this offseason in an effort to put a talented, but flawed, team over the top. But another is the fact that if Boston wants to punch a ticket back to the Stanley Cup Final — it's likely going to have to go through the Lightning.
Even if Tampa could lose a key cog or two this offseason due to a flat salary cap, the Bolts should still field a strong team in 2020-21 and beyond, especially with a number of key pieces now in or just entering their prime — such as Brayden Point (24 years old), Nikita Kucherov (27), Andrei Vasilevskiy (26), Anthony Cirelli (23) and many others.
Sure, Boston could cross its fingers that they could somehow duck Tampa next postseason, but such shouldn't be the mentality for Bruins team looking at another crack at the Cup next year. As such, Boston has a few interesting decisions to make when it comes to filling out its roster next season — especially when it comes to closing the gap and matching up better against a team like the Lightning that can beat you in a number of ways.