There go the Stanley Cup favorites.
Yes, the Boston Bruins are done, bounced from the postseason by their nemesis Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
A 3-1 Canadiens victory put an exclamation point on what the tiny but truculent team from Quebec thought it proved in the regular season—that the Bruins do not intimidate them.
The way the Bruins played at times in the second-round series against the Habs might not have intimated anyone. They were physical but undisciplined. They got frustrated, looked out of sorts and allowed the Canadiens to get in their heads.
They took too much pleasure doing things like squirting water in P.K. Subban’s face from the bench or spraying goaltender Carey Price with a snow shower, but they never showed the maturity necessary to move on.
These aren’t the 2011 Bruins.
They’re not even the 2013 Bruins.
The Bruins who will wake up Thursday still wondering how this happened, how they could let their spring come to a close in the second round, are in need of a refresher course on how they became NHL champions three years ago and fell just short of a second title in three seasons last spring.
They accomplished that with determination, hard work and a lunch-bucket mentality with enough talent to impose their will on opponents as opposed to the other way around.
With just as strong a cast of characters, they did no such thing this spring.
Credit the Canadiens. They played with heart, used their speed and skill and stellar goaltender to force this series to go the distance and ultimately get the best of the Bruins on Boston ice.
They matched the Bruins’ physicality and more than matched their intensity.
Carey Price improved his record in elimination games this year to 5-0, allowing just two goals total in Sochi and the last two contests against the Bruins.
|Price won't be bounced: 2014 elimination games|
|vs. Latvia||15||14||W 2-1|
|vs. USA||31||31||W 1-0|
|vs. Sweden||24||24||W 3-0|
|vs. Boston (Game 6)||26||26||W 4-0|
|vs. Boston (Game 7)||30||29||W 3-1|
The Bruins should be less concerned about how hot Price has been and more curious about the fact their biggest stars went down without putting up any sort of fight.
First-year Bruin Jarome Iginla scored the team’s only goal in its biggest game of the year, a nice tip of a Torey Krug shot. Iginla finished with three goals in the seven-game series.
The rest of the team’s top five regular-season scorers—David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand—were practically invisible over the final five games.
When Krug is your leading playoff scorer and not the two-time playoff leader Krejci, something is definitely wrong. He’s talented but no Bobby Orr.
|Bruins' silent stars|
|Game 7||Game 6||Game 5||Game 4||Game 3|
The emotional, nearly hostile scrum with Lucic after the game was indicative of just how unraveled the Bruins had become by the end of a game they had every reason to be motivated for. It was win or go home. They were on home ice.
But the ultimate effort wasn’t there.
It’s as if the Bruins—the Presidents’ Trophy winners this season—have become entitled and expectant. It’s as if they no longer feel they have to prove they’re the best team, or one of the best teams, in the NHL, assuming the wins will come because they have so often in the past.
Things aren’t as bleak as they are in Pittsburgh. Fans won’t be asking for someone to take the fall. That doesn’t mean they won’t be upset and disappointed with what has transpired when hopes were so high coming in.
Lucic looked angry, sounded angry, as he talked about the missed opportunity to move into the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four years.
“It’s gonna be tough to swallow this one and deal with it the rest of the summer. I think we just didn’t play our game when we needed to in these last two,” Lucic told reporters, as seen on the NHL Network. “It sucks, that’s it. It sucks. We had high expectations. We wanted to get back [to the Cup final]. We felt like we had a good enough team to win and we didn’t. It’s frustrating, I don’t know what else to say. We lost. We let our fans down when we had a great opportunity with a team like this.”
The lack of early effort and intensity in the final game was shocking.
Why it happened is what all the exit meetings will likely focus on. With as many proven leaders as the Bruins have on the roster, with Zdeno Chara, Bergeron and Krejci supported by the addition of Iginla, the flatness in the opening minutes that led to an early Canadiens lead when Dale Weise got his second goal of the series and third of the playoffs was stunning.
“That’s why we lost. That’s why we lost,” said the flustered Lucic. “I can’t elaborate on it.”
Make no mistake, the Bruins are still an incredibly talented club. They could be right back in the Stanley Cup Final a year from now. Head coach Claude Julien pointed the finger at his young defensive corps—forced to rely on the inexperienced Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton more than maybe it was ready for because of injuries to Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid.
The playoff loss doesn’t dampen what the Bruins accomplished in the regular season, but nobody is holding that Presidents’ Trophy high above his head mistaking it for the Stanley Cup.
“When you look at the whole picture, it’s a lot brighter than the ending,” Julien told reporters, via the NHL Network. “The one thing that really hurt us probably moving forward is we have a lot of first-year players in our lineup. You could see tonight there’s a lot of nervousness.”
While that may be true, there were plenty of veterans there to get them through it, and they didn’t bother.
“It sucks right now. It’s as good a team as I’ve ever played on. It’s as good a chance as I’ve ever had with a group,” Iginla said on the NHL Network.
“We didn’t take anything for granted.”
That last sentence is a little hard to believe.
But you can bet they’ll take nothing for granted next time around.
Steve Macfarlane has been covering the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons for the Calgary Sun. You can follow him on Twitter @MacfarlaneHKY.