The Boston Bruins had the NHL's best record (44-14-12) when the regular season was cut short in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet when the 16-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament starts next week, the Bruins will not be the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
As part of the NHL's restarted season, a round-robin tournament was created to give the top four teams in each conference meaningful games before they face the winners from the eight-team qualification-round series. Seeding for the following rounds was to be determined by how teams fared in the round robin, with regular-season points percentages acting as the tiebreakers.
Boston opened the East's round-robin tournament with losses to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, making it mathematically impossible for the Bruins to earn the first or second seed in the East.
The Bruins owned the regular season. But two losses in this postseason format rendered that accomplishment meaningless.
"That part sucks. I'm not going to lie to you," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "But that's the situation this year with the stoppage in play. We knew the rules coming into it, that we would lose a bit of the advantage we gained."
The Bruins were more competitive in their 3-2 loss to Tampa than they were in a 4-1 loss to the Flyers in their postseason opener. They finish with a game against the Washington Capitals on Aug. 9.
"We are where we are now," Cassidy said. "We're just trying to win a hockey game right now, get our game together so we can be our best, no matter who we meet."
Which team the Bruins will meet in the playoff quarterfinals is a mystery. For the first time since 2012, the NHL is reseeding its playoff rounds. Although the seeding is important in determining opponents, the games are going to be played inside empty buildings. As a result, "home ice advantage" isn't as important as it would be in typical postseasons, Cassidy said.
"This is one year where I think seeding is less relevant than others," he said. But after finishing with a .714 points percentage -- the best for the franchise since 1973-74 -- watching the top seed in the East slip away in just two games was an annoyance.
"Would I rather be No. 1? Keep it? Absolutely. But that's not going to happen," Cassidy said. "You gotta win 16 games. We knew that going in. That'll still be our goal."