So maybe, just maybe, we should feel a little better about the Bruins showing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Bruins bowed out in six games in the first round to the Ottawa Senators as we all remember and they even had the built-in excuse that they were missing three of their top-four defensemen for pretty much the balance of the series once Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and Brandon Carlo went out with an assortment of injuries.
That doesn’t even count the surgeries that Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask succumbed to after the season and the fact that David Krejci was a banged-up ghost in the series as well.
But the Bruins played Ottawa tough and might have even been able to pull off the upset if they’d been able to hold onto a two-goal lead in the third period of Game 2. Since that point, the Bruins hired Bruce Cassidy on as the full-time head coach after an 18-8-1 finish to the regular season and the players have scattered to the four corners of the hockey world to lick their wounds until training camp.
Or to think about what this building block of a season means to them moving forward.
“I think we’re kind of headed down the track that they want us to be going down. I think we’re headed down the path that they want us to be going. The management team put together a plan and I think that’s kind of where we’re at right now. It’s great to have, like I said before, the young kids coming in, and that culture seems to be in the room again,” said Brad Marchand at Bruins' break-up day. “The guys really got along well, we had a really great group this year that got along great off the ice. I think that’s why towards the end we really came together.
"When you have a group that’s that close and really gets along, then it’s a lot easier to come together at hard times and overcome them. That’s what I thought we did. We definitely took some steps in the right direction. Bringing the young guys in and getting back in the playoffs, getting that hunger again that maybe we might have missed having the last couple of years. It’s great, too, for the young guys to see what the playoffs are like and get that taste of wanting to win, the crowd wanting to win, the city wanting to win, and what it can take to win or lose a series. We went through a lot of good things, showed a lot of character this year, it’s great for the guys to see that, believe that, and bring that into next year.”
Ottawa has gone on to take out the New York Rangers in the second round in a series where Rangers' Derek Stepan and Henrik Lundqvist were beefing with each other as things slipped away, and now they’re up 2-1 on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins after humiliating Pittsburgh 5-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday night.
The Sens' 1-3-1 trap has frustrated high-speed teams in Pittsburgh and New York and both Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson continue to play at extremely high levels as they did against Boston.
Karlsson has 14 points and a dominant plus-13 in 15 playoff games for the Senators while pushing to the top of the Conn Smythe hopefuls. He's averaged a ridiculous 28:29 of ice time per game while showing off his electric offensive skills, playing as close to gritty defense as he can manage and displaying leadership while playing hurt at points in the postseason. The bottom line is that Karlsson is the dominant, all-around superstar a team needs to undergo a two-month run to the Stanley Cup and he’s consistently playing like it in the postseason for the first time in his standout NHL career.
So, perhaps now we should heap even more credit on a Bruins team that gave the Senators everything they could handle in the first round. The Bruins came within an overtime goal of pushing Ottawa to a Game 7 in their own building despite missing so many players from their roster. They also had at least one or two atrocious on-ice calls impact the outcomes of games. The OT loss in Game 3 at TD Garden where Riley Nash’s love tap led to the Ottawa game-winner is the one that sticks out in everybody’s mind, of course.
With the Washington Capitals out in the second round and the Penguins clearly a wounded animal while missing Kris Letang due to injury, the way is paved for the Senators to drag their trapping, oft-boring style all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Some might look at the Bruins and feel like it was a missed opportunity for them to be a surprise team that could have gone on a run this spring if they’d made it past the Senators. They might look at the first round, scratch their heads, exclaim “Damn!” and feel like the Bruins could have done exactly what Ottawa is doing right now.
“A lot is talked about the [Senators] system. It works for them, clearly. I think they’ve got some very good players. They’ve got some physical guys that get to the net, the Bobby Ryan’s of the world, the [Mark] Stones – they’ve got guys that they use to check – [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau, [Mike] Hoffman, he’s more of a scorer but they ask them all to contribute,” said Cassidy moments after the Bruins lost Game 6. “So, they’ve got good players and defensively, [Erik] Karlsson has a very good stick, body, and blocking shots. So, they’ve got good players.
“It sure looks like they have good sticks and they play their system well. Having said that, when we were able to penetrate through there and get behind them, I thought we played our game well. Both teams had their moments; they just had a few more than us.”
The simple truth is that it wasn’t Boston’s time this spring and the Bruins weren’t healthy enough to take out the Senators, who proved to be tougher than advertised. It was a good first step with players like 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy getting their feet wet and 20-year-old David Pastrnak logging some playoff experience that’s going to pay off next season and beyond.
Those six games, including a pretty awesome double-overtime win on the road in Game 5, should be even more encouraging to Bruins fans after watching what Ottawa has done to the Rangers and Penguins, a pair of Metro Division powerhouses. It’s just another piece of mounting evidence that the future is bright for the Black and Gold and things are most definitely on the right track for the next few seasons.