BOSTON -- There isn't a single team in the NHL that could have survived a playoff series after losing three of its top four defensemen, and the Boston Bruins are no exception.
So, in reality, the first-round matchup between the Bruins and Ottawa Senators was over virtually before it even began. Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug were lost just before the postseason started, and Adam McQuaid was knocked out with an upper body injury in Game 2.
It's a credit to the Bruins that they pushed Ottawa all the way to Game 6 before falling in overtime, 3-2, Sunday at TD Garden. Four of the six games went into overtime and all were decided by one goal.
But the wear and tear of trying to replace Krug, McQuaid and Carlo with Joe Morrow, John-Michael Liles and Charlie McAvoy was clear:
-- A whopping three delay-of-game penalties Sunday for firing the puck over the glass, including two by Morrow and Colin Miller, who wouldn't have been playing had the defense corps been healthy.
-- Major difficulties breaking the puck out of the zone against an Ottawa team not known for its forechecking ability.
-- And the Bruins' top-ranked penalty kill allowing power-play goals in each of their three overtime losses -- okay, the Game 2 Dion Phaneuf goal wasn't technically on a power play, but it was scored right after a penalty had expired and before Boston was able to reset -- and giving up six power-play goals in the six-game series. Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara were the only defensemen the Bruins could count on for the penalty kill with McQuaid and Carlo out, and that simply wasn't enough.
"I think our lack of having some of the players we relied on earlier in the year did catch up to us," said Bruce Cassidy. "I think Carlo and McQuaid are big-time penalty killers for us . . . played big minutes. And it was a couple of games there that they got to us on the PK, including today. It's no faults to the players on there or anybody, it's just those [injured] guys really excel in that aspect of the game. And I think that we missed Torey Krug's puck-moving ability in the games that we had trouble creating offense. So, those guys, we missed back there."
It's a credit to players like Morrow and Liles, and McAvoy, that the Bruins were even able to push all the way to a Game 6, and that the cracks didn't start showing starkly until this weekend. The 40-year-old Chara was playing yeoman minutes, pushed to the very edge of what he's still capable of, and he played well -- all things considered -- as he held together Boston's battered blue line.
Guys like Morrow and Liles may be gone next season after spending most of this year in mothballs on the NHL roster, but give credit where it's due: They stepped up and did more than could have been expected under the circumstances. It didn't mean they were going to be able to replace Krug, who ranked fifth among NHL D-men in points this season, or come close to matching the size, strength and toughness that Carlo and McQuaid bring to the table. But there was honor in Boston's replacements trying and succeeding to the best of their abilities, even if it ultimately wasn't good enough.
"[We] didn't have our best lineup, [but] we can't make any excuses, I think," said Tuukka Rask. "The mentality what we had throughout the season was, you know, next man up. And we have a lot of guys playing games and lot of change in our lineup.
"So that did not bother us, but, obviously, with injuries it is never the same. The way we battled, the way we played, we just have to be proud and take this experience moving forward."
The bottom line takeaway: The Bruins weren't good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup even with a fully healthy D-corps, and the injuries stretched and exposed their organizational depth. Puck movement suffered, offensive production -- a big staple of the coaching change to Cassidy -- cratered, and the penalty kill and shot-blocking weren't close to gritty or tough enough for consistent playoff success.
But it was good enough to compete, and it even supplied a great feel-good moment with the double-overtime win in Ottawa in Game 5.
"We were down some men. Good men. So that's unfortunate," said Cassidy. "[But] walking away thinking, 'Well, we didn't have our best lineup,' the what-if game . . . I don't know if that serves a purpose, to be honest with you. We had what we had. Those guys came and played hard, so I don't want to disparage their efforts at all.
"But, yes, we missed Krug, we missed Carlo, we missed McQuaid. No doubt. They're good players for us."
Now the Bruins can send McAvoy to Providence after an auspicious, promising debut at the NHL level under major duress, and continue to groom him as the No. 1 defenseman he looked like he'll be. His development, along with that of some of the other prospects, will go a long way to helping ensure what happened this spring won't repeat itself.