NHL Playoffs 2012: Boston Bruins Still Unaccustomed to Being the Favorites
Through their liberating run to the Stanley Cup last spring, the Boston Bruins verified the classic Aerosmith philosophy that “You’ve got to lose to know how to win.”
With their reign as champions officially over 45 weeks after they clinched the title, they are now a testament to the notion that you always still have something left to prove, even as past victors.
A 2-1, Game 7 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals knocked the Bruins out of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that saw the Caps post a final cumulative scoring edge of 16-15.
Over those seven full regulation games along with 30 minutes and 28 seconds of overtime, Boston allowed a nightly average of 2.29 goals while tallying only 2.14 of its own.
It is no accident that this was such a mutually tight-fisted affair. The only Bruins defenseman under the age of 30 to see action in this relatively short playoff run was Johnny Boychuk, who turned 28 in January.
Conversely, eight of the 12 forwards to dress for Game 7 were at least three months younger than Boychuk. A 21-year-old Jordan Caron, second only to Tyler Seguin in the way of youth, was seeing action in only his second Stanley Cup playoff game, while 34-year-old two-time champion Shawn Thornton was a healthy scratch.
But wait. Nine of the 12 forwards in action for Boston on Wednesday picked up substantial and successful postseason experience last year. And they all played a role in charging up a nightly median of 3.24 goals over that 25-game run.
What was the detrimental difference here? This time around, they were defending a title, and were almost the universal favorites in this series with the Capitals.
They had more to lose this time. That’s what went wrong.
Uncannily enough, the way Joel Ward instantly terminated Boston’s 2012 playoff run with a homeward-bound rebound was fraternal to the way Carolina’s Scott Walker did the same thing in 2009.
In the same vein, Ward’s goal decided the series, but at the same time did not decide the series. Not unlike their seven-game falter to the Hurricanes three years ago, the Bruins brought much of the precarious circumstances upon themselves as the role of favorites seemed too hot for them to handle.
The first time around, they were coming off a 116-point regular season that had most rooters and pundits incessantly rubbing their eyes in disbelief. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they had a new role to play as respected, pre-anointed contenders.
Yet, after sweeping their long-time nemesis from Montreal in the first round, which was really a smooth carry-over from a 5-0-1 run through their regular-season series, they defied logic again by falling in a 3-1 hole to the Hurricanes.
As it happened, they could only dig out of that as long as they could stay out of a sudden-death scenario.
This time around, they were coming off a Cup. And they were coming off a rollercoaster regular season that consisted of a hangover, a two-month surge, a two-and-a-half-month lull and a short U-turn back in the right direction.
Yet they never flexed any of their regular-season strengths in their seven-game arm-wrestling bout with the seventh-seeded Capitals. They scored first in only two of the seven games, doing so only once on home ice when Chris Kelly instantly secured a 1-0 overtime victory in Game 1.
They never did much to mollify rookie Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, and never once dared his skating mates to recompense a multi-goal deficit.
They never put their 32-0-0 record when leading after two periods on the line.
And in Game 7, they never built upon those refreshing power-play strikes from Games 5 and 6. Nor did any forwards, other than Seguin, manage to pen their name to the scoresheet.
Were they missing the seasoned likes of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, one of whom is 32 years of age and still active? Even the 26-year-old Nathan Horton and his recent, but rich, clutch history?
Now that the ice chips have settled, it is virtually impossible to say they were not.
But the youthful core of the Bruins' strike force can take this as a cold, hard sign that it is their time to shed the double runners. As many as 10 forwards will return next season still having yet to see their 30th birthday and five will have completed five NHL seasons or fewer.
For head coach Claude Julien, himself having rounded out five seasons behind the Boston bench, it is virtually back to the end of the beginning of this franchise’s resurgence.
Only this time, instead of trying to succeed without a scrap of past success, as it was in 2008, this franchise is now trying to attain spring success after reaching the summit.
Julien has an ample number of still-burgeoning pupils with ample opportunity to build upon what they have learned.
In other words, they had to lose again to know how to win again.
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