The Bruins’ season ended with a Game 6 overtime loss Sunday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
On the surface, squeezing into the playoffs and losing a first-round series against a mediocre Ottawa Senators team doesn’t look like much to be proud of. But head coach Bruce Cassidy is proud of his team and Bruins players are proud of themselves, and they should be.
We’ll never know what a healthy Bruins team could’ve done this postseason (the guess here is beat the Senators and maybe beat the Rangers in the next round), because we didn’t get to see it.
They didn’t have Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, two of their top three defensemen, all series. They lost Adam McQuaid, another regular defenseman and regular penalty-killer, early in Game 2.
A fourth regular defenseman, Colin Miller, missed two games due to injury. Second-line center David Krejci missed the first two games, didn’t look like himself when he returned, then got hurt again early in Game 5 and missed the rest of the series.
Those aren’t excuses for losing the series; they’re legitimate reasons (among others) for losing it. We can debate just how much those injuries hurt the Bruins, but there’s no question they did hurt.
“I think it was apparent to everybody that we weren’t at full strength, and guys had to step up, and we talked about it,” Cassidy said. “Other guys got an opportunity. I thought they did very well. So yeah, I’m proud of the guys’ effort from Feb. 9 on. We put ourselves in a position to be here in the first place. I think we played well enough to have the opportunity to advance, but they made a few more plays than us. Every game could have went either way. So, I’m proud of the players.”
What the Bruins should be proud of is how guys stepped up and made this a competitive series despite the injuries. Guys made mistakes (seriously, stop shooting the puck over the glass) and the team as a whole hit some tough stretches, but it really never looked like the Bruins were lacking effort.
Obviously the biggest positive in terms of guys stepping up was defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who made his NHL debut in Game 1, played huge minutes throughout the series and more than held his own as a top-pairing defenseman.
But there was also Kevan Miller and Joe Morrow, who stepped into top-four roles, played far more minutes than they did in the regular season and helped the Bruins’ defense perform better than anyone probably expected.
Up front, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore basically played top-six minutes and got some of the toughest matchups of the series, including a lot of Erik Karlsson. Sean Kuraly stepped into the lineup and scored two huge goals in Game 5, including the overtime winner. Drew Stafford scored twice. Tim Schaller scored a goal and got bumped up into the top six a couple times. David Backes played some of his best hockey of the season.
It might be tempting to say the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak underperformed, and you probably would’ve liked a couple more goals from them for sure. But each of them still ended up with four points in the series and they were very good by pretty much any other measure, be it shots on goal, shot attempts or Corsi.
The problem, as outlined here, is that those three went a bit cold at times and there was no other consistently reliable source of offense. But that’s not the fault of the guys who were trying to provide that offense. A lot of guys were asked to play bigger roles than they probably should have been playing, and most of them did about as well as anyone could’ve reasonably expected.
“Very proud of everyone,” Bergeron said. “A lot of guys came in the lineup with not much experience and were asked to play a different role and they did it. It was impressive to see that and it was next man up every time and I think it was great experience for the young guys for sure.”
Looking ahead, you probably have to be pretty encouraged when it comes to the defense. When you add Krug and Carlo to what you saw this series, especially from McAvoy, you start to have the makings of a defense corps that actually looks pretty solid.
But up front, this series helped highlight a lack of finishers. All those depth guys mentioned above — Nash, Moore, Acciari, Kuraly, Schaller — they’re just that: depth guys. They’re good fourth-liners who can pass as serviceable third-liners, and a few of them are good penalty-killers, but they’re not second-liners and it’s not fair to expect consistent scoring from them, which is what this Bruins team would’ve needed to make a deep run.
So yeah, Cassidy and the players should be proud of their showing in this series. But the Bruins’ front office should realize that there’s work to be done in order to take another step forward next season.