The Boston Bruins, a favorite for the Stanley Cup, watch the playoffs at home but the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to sneak in with a win over the Buffalo Sabres, the worst team in hockey.
There is no doubt the Bruins experienced a horrible season. Coach Claude Julien took over in 2007-2008 and never missed the playoffs until now. During that time, the Bruins won a Stanley Cup, President’s Trophy, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals after an outstanding first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Injuries to star players Zdeno Chara and David Krejci hampered the team, but no one is making excuses.
“When you don’t make the playoffs, you know you’ve failed,” explained Julien. “You’d like to think everyone in there (in the locker room) is a proud athlete and no one is taking this lightly. I know all of us seem to be feeling the same way. It’s disappointing. It’s a failed season for us, and we’ve just got to be ready to rebound here and get us going in the right direction.”
The dark horse in the Eastern Conference might be the Ottawa Senators, who clinched a spot when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1. They were 14 points out of a playoff spot on February 10 with five teams ahead of them. NHL.com writer Evan Sporer listed the five reasons why the Senators snuck up behind everyone and stole a playoff spot. The fifth spot belongs to rookie goalie Andrew Hammond, but he should be the first reason. His record is 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average. Hammond remains humble, but everyone knows he is the reason why the Senators made the postseason.
“I’ve never had a stretch of hockey like this in my life,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something anyone can explain. It’s just been so much fun coming to the rink every day. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”
It was a blessing the Penguins played the Sabres on the last day. They needed to win to clinch the last wild card spot after they lost in regulation to the New York Islanders. The first period was uninspiring, but something woke up the team during the first intermission. Brandon Sutter scored both goals as Marc-Andre Fleury produced his tenth shutout of the year.
“It was a big game and one we needed,” said Sidney Crosby. “Hopefully we can build off this one. When you’re hanging around, waiting to clinch, waiting, waiting, waiting, and it comes down to the last day obviously it makes things really interesting. … It doesn’t matter how you get in. You’ve just got to find a way to get in there.”
The New York Rangers, who won the President’s Trophy and set numerous team records, will host the Penguins in the first round. Here is the official lineup for the Eastern Conference Playoffs:
Montreal Canadians vs. Ottawa Senators
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders