Goalie Tuukka Rask led the league in save percentage (92.9) and goals against average (2.12) before March 12. If he regains that form, it could mitigate any scheduling challenges the Bruins will face in the new playoff format. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The good news for the Bruins is, it sure looks like they’re going to play hockey again this season. The NHL’s best team before the shutdown will try to win a Stanley Cup after it.

The bad news is that having the best record through March 12 doesn’t have the same weight they might have assumed it would.

The Bruins were the best team in hockey by every measurable factor – most wins, most points, highest percentage of available points earned, goal differential – before COVID-19 arrived. That didn’t mean much Tuesday when the NHL announced its quirky plan to restart. All it got them was a bye in the first round of the expanded 24-team playoffs and the most anti-climactic Presidents’ Trophy ever.

In each conference the top four teams are guaranteed a spot in the round of 16 (called the first round), while the other eight play each other in best-of-five series to advance to the first round. The four teams with byes play three games, one each against the other teams. In the East that means the Bruins will face Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. The record in those three games will determine seeds No. 1 through 4. In other words, the Flyers – who had 89 points in 69 games – could end up higher than Boston, who had 100 points in 70 games.

The layoff has given veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara rest for a playoff run. Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he wanted to reward the top teams with passage into the round of 16, but didn’t want it’s best teams to be disadvantaged in that first round because they’d be playing teams who had been playing elimination contests. So the league created a format where the top four teams would play meaningful games too.

“We’ve considered lots of options. By getting a bye, they’re going to be facing a team that just came out of a competitive series, and the concern was they needed to have some competition that might not put them at risk in terms of the playoffs but would give them an opportunity to play some real games, and that was the thinking that went into this,” Bettman said. “That’s really the answer. They needed some games that mattered to some extent in order to be coming against a team that just played a competitive series. The benefit and the curse of a bye, I suppose.”

Boston Coach Bruce Cassidy knew this was a risk.

“From our position, I’d rather it be just 16 with four rounds of seven games and let’s go. That’s the integrity of the playoffs and it’s always been that way. I understand the players’ perspective of wanting to get some games in because it gets ramped up in a hurry,” Cassidy said in a radio interview last week. “You understand it’s no-holds barred once you get to the playoffs. That’s tough on the players. Other years they’d be allowed to work out and skate.

“Most guys are doing nothing. The odd guy in Sweden or in Europe might be skating, so they do need time to ramp it up health-wise. At the end of the day, it’s going to be unfair to somebody and that’s just the way it is. If you go with just 16 teams, then what about the last one or two teams on the bubble that don’t make it. Hopefully we got to the 16 teams the right way and it doesn’t hurt us.”

In reality the Bruins would have been best served by a normal 16-team best-of-seven format, but an expanded postseason helps the league on multiple fronts. It protects teams that were just outside the playoff bubble that could have played their way in with a full season. It created more television inventory which is important financially given that the league has lost millions of dollars. because of the shutdown.

For what it’s worth, the Bruins voted ‘yes’ on this format Friday. Only two teams voted no. Tampa Bay confirmed it was one and Carolina was reportedly the other. More than likely Boston’s brass recognized that the good of the game at this unique point in history was more important than the good of their individual franchise even if it rewarded borderline playoff teams while hurting the top teams, who had already lost any advantage created by playing at home in front of their fans.

It could get worse too. The league hasn’t determined yet if round-of-16 series will be best-of-seven or best-of-five. Top seeds always want a longer series. It’s harder to pull four upsets than three upsets. The shorter the series, the more vulnerable a team is to a hot goalie or bad luck. But best-of-five might be more prudent as far as moving quickly during a pandemic.

In an attempt to have meaningful games for the teams at the top, the NHL created games with too much at stake. If those three games were simply added to the regular-season standings, they would have mattered for almost every team.

In the West, No. 1 St. Louis and No. 2 Colorado are separated by two points. In fact everyone except the Bruins would have had something to play for in those games.

Beyond format, the Bruins have other challenges ahead, but some advantages too.

The time off could benefit veterans Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, who both could be potentially fresher for the postseason than most veterans in a postseason following a deep playoff run the year before. It allowed Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, who’d both been hurt to fully heal. Only Kevan Miller, who won’t return this year, will be unavailable at the start of the postseason.

That gives Cassidy a lot of choices without much evaluation time. Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak will be the No. 1 line. Whether it regains its pre-pandemic rhythm will have a huge impact on Boston’s ceiling. After that Krejci is the No. 2 center with unknown wings and Charlie

Coyle is probably the No. 3 center. Every other forward is either fighting for where they’ll line up or if they’ll line up at all.

The most important factor of course is Tuukka Rask. His save percentage (92.9) and goals against average (2.12) led the NHL before March 12. If the goalie is on his game seeding won’t matter, format won’t matter and there will be a lot of room for everybody else to rediscover their rhythm.

If he’s lousy, the Bruins are probably headed for a quick exit which would have been true no matter when the playoffs started.

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