BOSTON – Count Bruins President Cam Neely among those that can’t figure out why his hockey club faltered so badly, and so often, during high profile games last season.
There have been hints of it going back three seasons ago when the Bruins looked tight and anxious in their last few playoff games against the Canadiens. But it was a full-blown problem last season that was most pronounced on their own home ice.
The fragile mental state of the Bruins cropped up in big game blowout losses at the Winter Classic, during Milan Lucic’s return to Boston with the Los Angeles Kings and most painfully in that final, ugly loss to the Senators with the playoffs on the line. There were plenty of other examples sprinkled throughout the season to confirm it was a bona fide team pattern rather than simple coincidence.
It’s something both Claude Julien and Neely identified in their respective press availabilities over the last week, but it’s a problem that also remains to be seen how the Black and Gold address it for next season and beyond.
“I don’t know if it’s nervousness or the pressure. It’s hard for to climb inside the guys’ heads, but there were a lot of times this year where we could have won and got to first place in the division…the Winter Classic game…the last game of the season,” said Neely, ticking off the individual big games where the Bruins wilted under the pressure. “It happened a lot this year where we could have really separated ourselves from those teams behind us and we laid an egg. Those are things we certainly need to correct.”
Some of it is clearly about the erosion of certain glue guys from the Bruins dressing room with Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton all moving on to other NHL locations, and some of it last season was about missing a key leadership presence with the leg injury to Chris Kelly. Some of it is also about the growing youth movement being introduced to the Bruins roster that’s not as adept at the high-pressure NHL situations.
Some of it might even be impossible for the Black and Gold to ever quantify, or identify in their team-building process. But Bruins management had better find a way to fix it for next season, or they’ll be doomed to repeat.