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And Just Like That…

Posted By Matt Preston On Apr 29 2012 @ 2:53 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

As the puck drops on the second round of the 2012 NHL playoffs, many that follow the Boston Bruins are left wondering just what happened?

One year after seemingly exercising 39 years of demons, the Bruins returned to form on Wednesday night as their season came to an abrupt, disappointing and seemingly much to early end as they fell to the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in overtime of Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

It was a tightly contested series. It was the first series in NHL history in which all seven games were decided by one goal. Four games went into overtime and only once in the entire series was there a two-goal lead by either team. In the end, the outcome could have gone either way. While there were individual battles being won on both side, neither team grossly outplayed the other. With time winding down in the third period of Game 7, it was easy to see the totality of the series was going to be defined by one team making just one more mistake than the other and that team capitalizing. Much like the New England Patriots disappointing loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, that is exactly how it went down for the Boston Bruins.

Less 2:30 after Bruins center Patrice Bergeron fanned on a one-timer at a wide-open net, former Bruin Mike Knuble picked off a dump-in attempt by Benoit Pouliot and turned it into a 2-on-1 the other way, which ended with Joel Ward collecting the rebound off a Knuble shot and putting it past Bruins netminder Tim Thomas to end the Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions and earn the Capitals a date in the second round.

The Bruins defended their crown nobly during the regular season. The year had the customary ups and down, some more violent than others, but their body of work on the whole through 2011-2012 was a success. Kind of hard to criticize a regular season in which a team repeats as division winners, had the second best goals per game average in the league (3.17), sixth best goals against (2.43) and at one time ripped off a 21-3-1 stretch. And that is without even delving into personal accomplishments of many of the players, as a roster with the league’s top five leaders in plus/minus, Norris and Selke Trophy nominees and countless players with career years.

The playoffs, however? That was a different beast.

Characterized for much of the past 17 months as a team that plays on the edge, plays as a group, overpowering their opponents by a sheer will to win, thriving on even the smallest of emotional sparks, the Bruins could not have looked more different over these past seven games. Their physical presence was lost for great stretches as the Bruins often meandered through large parts of games. Rarely leading throughout the series, the Bruins were never able to feed off the momentum of a big save, big hit or timely goal to take their game back to the championship level of which they were capable.

Virtually the same as it was in 2010-2011, general manager Peter Chiarelli and Bruins management had once again put together a roster with the potential of making a Stanley Cup run, while head coach Claude Julien’s system has proven it can win against the best the NHL can throw its way. This one is on the 21 players who touched the ice wearing Black-and-Gold these playoffs and, to make matters worse, there are some who readily admit to their shortcomings, proving this is all on them.

“We had a long year, a short schedule and another tough season again this year,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand was noted as saying following Game 7. “It made it a challenge to get prepared this year.”

Not all are to blame. Many of the Bruins did put forth a level of effort worthy of advancing. Dennis Seidenberg put forth a Herculean effort against Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin, as the German blue liner was often physically engaging the Russian star and was able to keep him to just two goals in the series. Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, key cogs acquired in 2011, continued their timely performances through the playoffs. And, despite a slow start to the series, phenom Tyler Seguin came on late, performing well in Games 5, 6 and 7, with the overtime game-winner in Game 6 and the lone Bruins goal in Game 7. In the end, there are three key targets for blame following the loss to Washington.

Combining for just two goals and six assists in the series, the trio of Marchand, Milan Lucic and David Krejci are the three who need to shoulder the bulk of the blame for the Bruins’ failure to advance.

Marchand, one of the Bruins top emotional spark plugs who also finished second on the team with a career-high 28 goals in the regular season, went from vicious agitator to overdramatic flopper over the course of the Washington series. Marchand was even dropped to the fourth line by Julien for Game 5 in hopes of sending a message that the sophomore needed to wake up. He responded with a crucial goal in the game and even added an assist, but Marchand went right back to non-factor. Those were his only two points of the series.

Lucic, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago, voted by his peers during the season as the most feared player in the NHL, had just three assists and will be most remember in this series for the crying gestures made in his direction by Washington defenseman Karl Alzner. Lucic did have his moments in which he inflicted his physical presence, but they were just that: moments. For the second straight season, Lucic has yet to step up and carry play throughout a playoff series as should be expected from a championship team’s top winger.

Krejci’s performance, however, could be the most disappointing of the three. The Czech center dazzled during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2011, leading the league in goals (12), game-winning goals (4) and points (23), and was later rewarded with a three-year contract extension in December, worth more than $5 million annually, based mostly on his past performances in the clutch. On top of his customary regular season struggles, Krejci was but a ghost in this year’s playoffs. With just a goal and pair of assists, the most impact Krejci had on the headlines this post season is when a pane of glass fell on him during the Bruins postgame celebration following Game 1. Even if he did setup Seguin’s Game 6 game-winner to force the pivotal Game 7, Krejci’s game was absolutely devoid of its usual flare and wizardry.

Yes, the Washington Capitals were far better than the average seventh seed. Yes, the Bruins were missing both Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid, whose mere presence in the lineup might have been enough to make that one goal swing that would have sent the Bruins, rather than the Caps to the second round. Though they might eventually have been, injuries were not the undoing of the Bruins in this series, nor was the strength of the Capitals. The Bruins were the better team, are a better team. The Capitals, however, played better and deserved to win that series. The Bruins could have and should have won this series.

After last season and the regular season just played, there are some who will not admit to it and there are some who will say it is not even fair to really question it. In totality, however, it must be said the 2011-2012 Boston Bruins season was a disappointment. At least in its ending. The defending Stanley Cup champions went out in the first round to a team that was inferior to their own and they did so without even throwing their best punch. Had the Bruins played like they did last postseason and when they were at their best this year, it would be a different story. And as they willingly admit they left their effort on the table, that all too familiar, horrible taste returns.

As the 2012 playoff roll on and eventual come to a close, there will come a time to analyze the Bruins going forward into 2012-2013, as they return to their familiar ground of looking to avenge yet another disappointing ending to a season. With the key pieces in place, as they were both this season and last, there is plenty to look forward to in the future of Bruins hockey. For now, however, the Black-and-Gold faithful must sit and wait, with that pit in their stomachs, pondering what went wrong, thinking of all the chances that could have changed their team’s fortunes. As quickly as it came, just like that, the magic carpet ride was over and the Boston Bruins came back down to Earth.

It’s good to be back.

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