The Bruins sat in their dressing room baffled by their fate. It was what you’d expect from a team that had just been eliminated: quiet guys, short sentences and the general sense that players were preoccupied with thinking about what could have been.
While the scene looked like any other one from a team that had been knocked out, the case was different for the Bruins. They weren’t just eliminated, they were the defending Stanley Cup champions and they were eliminated in the first round.
They were eliminated by a first-year coach, an AHL goalie and a roster full of players learning a new system. In November, they looked like a safe bet to represent the Eastern Conference in the Cup finals again this year. At season’s end, they were the No. 2 seed. On Wednesday, it ended just seven games in.
“It’s such a weird feeling,” said Dennis Seidenberg, who was 4-0 in Game 7s prior to Wednesday. “You play hard, it’s a tight game and suddenly a bounce goes against you and suddenly the season’s over. For the first few minutes, and even right now, you’re wondering what time practice is tomorrow, but there is no practice.”
The bounce that went against the Bruins was a Benoit Pouliot dump-in that was blocked by Mike Knuble, setting up a 2-on-1 that resulted in Joel Ward burying a rebound that ended the B's season a lot sooner than expected. The Bruins will clean out their lockers on Friday and head home for the offseason.
Here are five reasons, in no particular order, as to why the Bruins couldn’t make it out of the first round.
THE POWER PLAY COULDN’T SCORE WHEN IT MATTERED MOST
To say the hockey gods wanted the Bruins to win this series wouldn’t do Game 7 justice.
The hockey gods wanted the Bruins to win this series so badly that Jason Chimera, a villain around these parts since he sent Adam McQuaid head first into the end boards on March 29, gladly volunteered to give the Bruins the game and the series.
With less than three minutes remaining in regulation of a 1-1 contest, Chimera essentially tackled Johnny Boychuk, forcing the refs to call a penalty at a point in the game in which they generally wouldn’t be inclined to do so.
Then the Bruins let the hockey gods down, and it wasn’t a surprise.
Boston failed to convert on the power play, their final man advantage in a series in which they went 2-for-23. The teams played out the final 26 seconds of regulation 5-on-5, and the Bruins entered overtime having blown an opportunity so golden that you would have thought King Midas was officiating the contest.
"When you talk about tonight, that’s probably the most frustrating part of our game was that power play that could have ended the series and the game," Claude Julien said.
But it didn’t, and unlike last year, when the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup finals without a power play (5-for-61 in the first three rounds, a span of 18 games), the lack of production on the man advantage did them in.
“There’s times where your skilled players have to make the skilled play,” Julien said. “They also have to work to get that puck, and at the same time, they’ve got to get some shots through. There’s a lot of things that have to be worked out, but at the same time, you miss the guy like [Marc] Savard who was so good on the right-hand wall to control things, and we had different looks on our power play, so there’s some things we have to look at. Now is not the time to discuss all of this, but again, your power play can win you hockey games, and tonight it didn’t.”
Assistant coach Geoff Ward kept his job last year despite the Bruins’ power-play struggles after the team improved to a 5-for-27 mark in the Cup finals against the Canucks, but what happens now? There was no such turnaround for the power play this postseason, so don’t be surprised if Ward’s name comes up among the scapegoats for the disappointing season.
LAST SEASON HAPPENED
When you go to sleep late, you wake up late, and your sleeping patterns can get thrown off in the process. Hockey-wise, that happened to the Bruins.
The Bruins didn’t get to sleep until middle of June last year. They kept on sleeping right through October, and in the process the team fell to last place in the Eastern Conference. The B's woke up in November and dominated for two months, but then they crashed hard.
While they got better late in the season, they never got back to where they were when they were blowing teams out in November and December. They peaked in the second and third months of the season, and they never got back.
After the game, plenty of Bruins acknowledged that this season was challenging because of their lengthy 2010-11 campaign. For a team that often says it doesn’t make excuses, that sounds like an excuse, but it’s a legitimate one.
Though this is a salary cap world in which roster turnover is much more common, even defending champs who have kept their nucleus together haven’t been able to have playoff success. In fact, the Bruins became the seventh team in the last nine seasons to be bounced in the first round after winning the Cup the year before.
“It was real tough. I don’t want to make excuses, but it was real tough to get yourself mentally prepared to start that season and get ready for the grind of the season and even the playoffs,” Milan Lucic said. “Especially ending the way that we did with 22 games in the last 40 days of the season, you’re definitely feeling it after that. But like I said, you don’t want to make excuses, but now with this time off, we won’t have any excuses for next year. We’ve got to do whatever we can to get our rest and come in healthy and ready to play.”
THEY COULDN’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AN AHL GOALIE
Braden Holtby had a .940 save percentage against the Bruins in the first round.
Just to clarify, that’s the same Braden Holtby who was giving up huge rebounds throughout the series and had some shaky showings, but there’s a good chance the Bruins weren’t aware of them.
Not to discredit Holtby, but one would be discrediting the Capitals as a team if they were to look at Holtby’s numbers and arrive at the idea that he took over the series.
What really happened is that the Bruins never got it quite right against a team that nobody expected to be that good defensively. They didn’t expect a roster highlighted by flashy European forwards to start blocking shots like they were the New York Rangers. They probably didn’t expect it to be that hard to get through the neutral zone with speed. Finally, they couldn’t have expected it to be that tough to get bodies in front or get clean looks at Holtby once they were in the zone.
Simply put, the Bruins never figured out -- and thus didn’t get to -- Holtby. If they had, it probably would have shown on the scoreboard. Even on the Bruins’ shots from outside the perimeter, Holtby was giving up gargantuan rebounds that the Bruins just couldn’t get to.
When they got rushes, they scored. When they got clean looks, they scored. They just never got enough of them, and it fooled a lot of people into thinking Holtby dominated this series. Nope, the lack of scoring is on the Bruins. The same Bruins, by the way, who averaged 3.24 goals per game last postseason.
THEY FACED AS CHALLENGING A NO. 7 SEED AS THEY COULD FACE
Not only were the Capitals a tighter defensive team than people probably expected after years of having tons of offense and little else under Bruce Boudreau, but they showed that Dale Hunter might have something in Washington.
Hunter obviously wanted the team to be better defensively when he took over in November, and it’s working. The Capitals are playing a 1-4 trap in the neutral zone and they’re blocking shots in their own end. The result is a team that plays well defensively but still has highly dangerous offensive weapons in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.
As such, the second-seeded Bruins didn’t exactly get your typical No. 7 seed. On paper, the Bruins still boasted more talent and certainly should have been able to beat Washington, but it was tough. In fact, it was the closest series they or any other team has ever played. Did that make it a more challenging series than any of their series in their Cup-winning 2011 run?
“They were different,” Boychuk said of the different series. “Last year we scored plenty of goals and this year it wasn’t about who scores all the goals. It was so close, every game was a one-goal game, but I think it was so close that just one little mistake could cost you the game and the series, and that’s what happened.”
THEIR BEST FORWARD WAS HURT
This is an excuse the Bruins can make. You can’t overlook the fact that Patrice Bergeron was banged up enough to prevent him from taking faceoffs.
Would a 100 percent healthy Bergeron have changed the outcome of the game? It’s hard to be sure, but here’s some proof they could have used him at the dot: Rich Peverley lost 15-of-26 faceoffs he took, while David Krejci lost 10-of-15 draws. The Bruins were missing their best player on faceoffs, and the team’s other right-handed centers couldn’t replace his production.
“On the right side between Krejci and Peverley we didn’t do a very good job,” Julien said. “That’s where a guy like Bergeron comes in handy, and when you win draws you start with the puck, so we didn’t start with the puck as much as we’d like to tonight, and that certainly wears on you throughout the game.”
Bergeron had the opportunity to win the game for the Bruins early in overtime, but his bid went wide as he failed to fully control the puck. Bergeron woudn’t say after the game what his injury was.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse right now,” he said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, and I really don’t want to put that on an injury. I’m not the only one that goes through that stuff.”