The Boston Bruins blew a 3-2 series lead and lost the decisive seventh game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at home to the hated Montreal Canadiens. What went wrong? Where do we start?
A hat trick examining what derailed such a promising Boston Bruins season, right after I’m done being a baby and looking for respect…
I’m going to spare the the details you probably already know, the stuff that the part-time “hockey media” has chosen to beat you over the head with because the game moves too fast for them to keep up with, thus negating anything in the way of a unique or insightful thought. Yes, the Canadiens’ best players were better than the Bruins’ best players over the seven games, and yes, Carey Price outplayed Mr. Two U's, Two K's, Two Points between the pipes.
But why did those things happen?
1. LACK OF IDENTITY. During every championship season — in virtually every sport — columnists have a field day with a team’s “identity.” We have The Idiots from the Red Sox 2004 World Series, the Super Bowl-shufflin’ Chicago Bears of 1986, and the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys.” The list goes on and on.
This year’s Bruins team had an identity of its own, too, and it’s the same as they’ve had for a few seasons now. They’ve prided themselves on being difficult to play against, on having four lines and six defensemen, and on wearing teams down methodically. One only has to look as far back as the first round against Detroit to see how the Bruins, as currently constructed, were capable of completely beating an opponent into submission as the games wore on and the series went deeper and deeper.
Part of that identity, too, has certainly been “playing on the edge.” When the team is going well, we barely make mention of a Milan Lucic stick to the-area-I-dare-not-speak-of-in-front-of-my-mother or Brad Marchand clocking somebody upside the head prior to a defensive zone face-off. Take Shawn Thornton’s atrocious actions against Brooks Orpik of the Pengins — an act that saw him suspended for a whopping 15 games — as a prime example. It was barely a blip on the radar screen for more than a few days before we were back to talking about how good this Bruins team was.
But when the team struggles, suddenly the extracurricular antics of players becomes a major talking point.
The lack of that edge was ultimately what cost the Bruins against Montreal — an organizational belief, from the coaching staff right on down through the 13th forward and seventh defenseman, that all they needed to do was show up and be responsible and they'd be fine.
When the Bruins are at their best, they are angry. They are flirting with the penalty box. They are running guys over after the whistle. They are throwing rabbit punches straight into guys’ faces (see: Sedin, 2011).
They did none of that against Montreal, and it cost them dearly. Despite promises of “playing our game” and “establishing who we want to be,” they never did. Now the only edge they have to worry about for the next few months is the bunker on the edge of that fairway on No. 16.
They weren’t desperate enough, they weren’t engaged enough emotionally, and they were certainly void of any passion. Heck, Montreal even stole their whole “respect” thing and used it against them.
2. SEIDENBERG AND TRADE DEADLINE INACTION. It’s not fair to make Matt Bartkowski or Kevan Miller scapegoats for what happened, but they are a large part of what went wrong for Boston.
Think back to December 27 and Dennis Seidenberg crumpled behind his own net, and remember your very first reaction to the news that he’s blown out both his ACL and his MCL: “HOLY (insert favorite expletive here)! There goes the season.” And though the team continued to march through regular season foes like they’d shown up at the local rink for a game of street hockey against your high school’s junior varsity tennis team, they never replaced Seidenberg — and when big-boy hockey started, it cost them.
This is not to suggest that one player was the difference in the Montreal series, but there is a point to this. By not having a trusted, proven NHL defenseman to match with either the injured Zdeno Chara (left hand) or Johnny Boychuk, Claude Julien never could get quite the matchup he wanted. The deeper a team goes into the playoffs, the more lines it can throw at you — for Montreal, the Canadiens were three lines deep offensively given the work of the fourth line.
Julien — still one of the best coaches out there at making in-game adjustments — essentially had one and a half pairings with which to work. That’s asking a lot, even had Chara been completely healthy.
Does Seidenberg (or, in hindsight, a trade deadline acquisition better than Meszaros or Potter — HELLO, DAN GIRARDI) make the Bruins good enough to oust the Habs? On his own, no. But there’s no way to know how those Games 6 and 7 change if Montreal isn’t allowed gimme goals just a handful of minutes into each contest. Seidenberg’s play was completely underrated by Bruins fans prior to his injury, but don’t look here to this space for someone to tell you he wasn’t valuable. That leadership, presence, strength, skill and sense of calm he brings to the ice would have dramatically settled those chaotic first 10 minutes for the Bruins.
3. THE FOURTH LINE. David Krecji was absent. Milan Lucic was absent — save for groin shots and the handshake line. Brad Marchand was absent. Heck, all you have to do is note that Torey Krug led the team in playoff scoring this season and it’s more than enough to tell you there were too many passengers and not enough drivers on this edition of the Bruins bus.
But it’s still not where Boston was beaten.
They were beaten where they believed they were among the best in the league — by depth. The Montreal fourth line of Dale Weise, Brandon Prust and Daniel Briere made the Gregory Campbell-Daniel Paille-Shawn Thornton line look like veritable AHL extras. They not only possessed the puck, but they created bonafide scoring chances — and cashed in key early goals throughout the series.
Where puck possession has become such an immense component of today’s NHL (Go ahead and do a Google search for CORSI), the Bruins fourth line (I won’t use the catchy little “Merlot Line” moniker so many like; it’s cutesy and not all that clever and is only used when the Bruins media doesn’t have anything meaningful to offer about actual game play) continued trying that 1980s dump-and-chase philosophy that’s more stale than the box of Wheat Thins you’ve had hidden behind the good, organic tortilla chips for the last eight months.
Here’s the series for the fourth line in a nutshell: Get puck, heave into a corner, watch helplessly as today’s electric, mobile NHL defenseman make one 70-foot pass to turn that cross-corner dump into a speedy, odd-numbered transition the other way.
If the Bruins really want to get better moving forward, they need to blow things up at the bottom of the roster — not the top of it. Bring Jarome Iginla back, hold onto Marchand and Smith, Eriksson and Soderberg. Cut bait with a hapless fourth line that Boston hockey fans love because “they can fight.”
The Bruins don’t need toughness to win the playoffs. They have true, tough rugged forwards already, and they don’t need to fight to prove it. What they do need is a fourth line that can keep up with the rest of the roster — one that gives Julien an option to shake things up when his other lines aren’t producing.
With the 10th, 11th and 12th forwards Julien had to dress in the Montreal series, his hands were tied when it came to in-game adjustments. No matter how bad Marchand was, you can’t replace him with Campbell, and Thornton won’t ever take the place of Lucic or Smith alongside centermen who have both skill and vision.
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