Game 7. It encompasses all that is the hockey spirit. Passion, physicality and the will to win, the epic series-deciding affair doesn’t get better than two hated rivals squaring off, with a chance to clinch an Eastern Conference Final birth. From Game 1 to Game 6, the series has had it all. Story lines abundant, with Boston’s finishing struggles leading the way- on Wednesday, when needed the most, the home team’s stars remained invisible, and the team still couldn’t finish.
The depth that had gotten the Bruins this far, at least come playoff time, also carried over their Game 6 struggles, making for the most disappointing exit possible for the black and gold. With both the stars and depth missing in action, the Bruins Game seven effort versus Montreal is inexplicable. Never would you expect this Bruins team- the president’s trophy winner and arguably best Boston team in recent memory- to go down like this. Getting outscored 7-1 in the final two games of the series when needing only one win is unacceptable.
Finish is the key word here. The Bruins struggle to finish. It’s fact. Yes, they’ve won a cup; and yes, they’ve been back a second time. But a constant theme in recent years- from the “first round and out” to the “cup contending” Bruins- is the inability to finish, and its hurt them. Finishing chances is what strangled the Bruins in this series, and an embarrassing Game six effort is what ultimately derailed them.
“I think the one thing that really hurt us probably moving forward is we had a lot of first-year players in our lineup and you could see tonight that there was a lot of nervousness,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of his team postgame. “I don’t think we played badly but we certainly weren’t playing as well as we could to be a team that would move ahead. So no doubt it’s a disappointing night for us, but at the same time I think our young guys this year did a great job of stepping in for some serious injuries to certain of our players and had a real good season. So maybe it came back to haunt us a little bit, but certainly not disappointed with our team.”
It’s true. The young defense, the hiccups, misplays by both Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski stand out as crucial turning points in particular games and in this series.
“They did get the early goal again like they did in Game 6, and certainly those things really hurt us again,” Julien said. “Young player missing his assignment as far as awareness, and they get that early goal in the first couple minutes of the period. So those are things we have to face and look at and say, you know what? That’s of our own doing and we have to live with that.”
It wasn’t just the young guys though. The combination of their struggles paired with the top guy’s inconsistencies is what really killed this team. The top line trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla struggled the most- uncharacteristic mistakes being made by all three players all series long. Iginla had his chances, especially in the last two games, but couldn’t net the big goal at the right time.
“You want to be playing your best at this time of the year,” Iginla said. “And unfortunately you know as a line we weren’t probably as – you know, there was more that we could have been better, but it wasn’t for lack of guys wanting it or desire. But we definitely can feel getting those close one-goal games, and there were lots of them this series. And we feel a lot of responsibility there, for sure.”
Where the Bruins go from here should be interesting.
Dennis Seidenberg will be back. There was apparent “framework of a deal” made during the trade deadline, so a defensemen (Alex Edler of Vancouver?) could be coming in. After an abysmal postseason and general decline in overall play, this might be the end of the “merlot line.” Chris Kelly could be gone. And that’s right, Iginla could be gone.
Questions now surround the former president’s trophy winning turned second-round exiting Boston Bruins. After poor efforts from the first line, fourth line and some young defenders as well, could an actual “shake-up” be in store? Don’t believe they go that far, yet; but the ultimate question rightfully remains- when will this team really learn to finish? To match a team’s Game 6 desperation and not let it go the full seven? Until then, they will always have work to do.
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