Giant wasted chance for Bruins, and it may not come again anytime soon

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Giant wasted chance for Bruins, and it may not come again anytime soon

BOSTON – The home dressing room at TD Garden was full of tears, heartbreak and shell-shocked silence in the moments following Boston’s Game 7 Stanley Cup Final loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.

There had been so much excitement and optimism given Boston’s overwhelming playoff experience, given how hot goaltender Tuukka Rask had been throughout the postseason and given the way Boston had seemingly cracked the Blues during Game 6 in St. Louis. But instead it was a sad, frustrated and somewhat resigned Bruins dressing room following a 4-1 loss to the Blues in Game 7 where St. Louis was named Stanley Cup champs on Boston’s home ice.

There were no controversial calls and no predatory hits from the Blues players looking to knock Bruins skaters out of the postseason. Instead St. Louis played it straight and simply overpowered the Bruins 5-on-5 while taking advantage of a couple of mistakes and an average night from Tuukka Rask in a game where the Bruins needed to be stellar.

“It’s an empty feeling. It’s a long year. Someone had to win and someone had to lose, and we came out on the wrong side of it. It’s not the way you picture it. It’s as simple as that,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t think anybody is leaving the building tonight unfortunately in our locker room saying they put their best foot forward unfortunately, and that’s the whole group. We didn’t get it done at every position, coaching staff, whatever, they ended up being better than us and did what they had to do to win. It’s that simple.”

Cassidy’s words ring true when you consider that St. Louis’ best players showed up with Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Binnington and Brayden Schenn all factoring in a big way into the win, and Boston’s best players were mostly nowhere to be found in a decisive Game 7 where they needed to be difference-makers. The Bruins didn’t score the first goal and had a breakdown in the final seconds of the first period that put them down 2-0 as they headed into the first intermission.

The Bruins went out with a whimper rather than a mighty fight kicking and screaming, and it amounts to a giant missed opportunity for the Black and Gold. Once the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins went out in the first round of the playoffs, the pathway to the Stanley Cup Final was wide open in the East after they managed to advance past the Maple Leafs. They were a better, deeper and more dangerous team than St. Louis on paper headed into the Cup Final, and they had home-ice advantage as it played out in Game 7.

Despite all these things, the Bruins let slip through their fingers the first Game 7 chance to win the Cup on home ice in franchise history.

“It’s hard to tell right now to be honest with you,” said Bergeron, when asked about the Bruins getting back to this point again. “It’s hard to really think past what’s going on tonight, so like I said, it’s heartbreaking. You know, that’s it.

“Whatever we say doesn’t matter because it is what it is. I’m proud of the guys. I’m proud of everyone and the way that we’ve competed. But then you don’t get the result and it’s hard to be standing here and answering questions.”

In doing so the Black and Gold almost certainly have blown their last, best chance to win with this particular group of core Bruins players. With Zdeno Chara at 42 years old and Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask all in their 30’s, the chances of the Bruins being as healthy and productive over a two-plus month Stanley Cup run aren’t very good at all. Sure, the futures are bright for young guys like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo, and maybe they will be back again in the Cup Final one of these days.

“I thought we battled hard. Like I said, if you look at it it’s such a tough moment to kind of reflect on right after. This group battled really hard all year long, we overcame some adversity, and some challenges,” said Zdeno Chara, who missed exactly zero games in these playoffs after fracturing his jaw in Game 4 of the Cup Final. “I’m really proud of this team. There is for sure a lot of character in this room and I’m sure there is a bright future for this team.

“We can be proud of what we’ve done, but we just came short. Sometimes those downs make you stronger and I believe this team still has potential to get back to the Final and get it done.”

Maybe yes and maybe no.

But the odds are extremely slim that the playoff field will open up again perfectly for the Bruins along with the ideal blend of proven vets and talented youngsters on the roster. This was the season for guys like Bergeron, Marchand, Chara and Rask to cement their respective legacies at the NHL level, and for the younger generation to join them as proven Cup winners.

Instead there is “devastation”, “heartbreak” and a whole bunch of players who understandably bawled their way through Wednesday night’s postgame. It’s a credit to them that they came out and faced the music, but part of the sadness had to be about the unfortunate reality that they might not be back this away again anytime soon.

The window is closing on this aging Bruins core group and the chances for some of them to match this season’s output again aren’t very good. Certainly nobody is expecting that David Krejci is going to score 20 goals again in a season during his NHL career, and Bergeron continues to see his body break down after 16 rigorous, heavy-mile years at the NHL level.

That’s why getting all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and falling short has to be a crushing twist of fate, and a sobering reminder that might have been their final chance to hoist the Cup one last time.

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Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

WASHINGTON  – It might have been the Bruins' fourth loss in a row and, for the first time all season, the B's have lost three consecutive regulation games, but there were glimmers of hope in the 3-2 defeat at hands of the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

The Bruins marched out to a 1-0 lead after David Pastrnak’s first goal in five games and it would have been a two-goal lead early in the game if a silly offsides challenge that had nothing to do with the actual goal hadn’t overturned Patrice Bergeron’s power-play strike.

So, the Bruins had a better start than they have had recently, had a solid three periods of play while outshooting the Capitals 32-25 and played with more engagement, effort and urgency than they have shown in a couple of weeks. It was certainly encouraging that the Bruins are turning the corner back toward consistently good efforts rather than some of the forgettable, unfocused efforts of the past couple of weeks. Still, it was again a loss. 

“We’re all frustrated, but as a coach, you like how the 60 minutes transpired better than some of the other nights. We were in the game, right there and very easily could have won the game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Two or three things probably changed that, but in terms of a 60-minute effort we’re getting a lot closer to where we want to be.”

The good news is that the Bruins leadership group sees light at the end of the tunnel with another big game against the Tampa Bay Lightning awaiting them 24 hours later. 

“I thought that’s the kind of hockey that [we] want to play and you want to get back to,” said Bergeron of a Bruins team that’s taken just one out of a possible eight points in their last four games. “There are still some things to rectify with us coming up short, but we’re trending in the right direction. But it’s a short turnaround with the game [against Tampa Bay].”

The Bruins are still sitting on a 10-point lead in the division over Buffalo and Montreal despite having dropped four in a row, so there’s clearly no panic or feeling like their backs are against the wall. On the contrary, that might be part of the lack of urgency that’s crept into the B’s game the past couple of weeks, but they showed Wednesday night that they still have a solid, consistent effort in them when the mood strikes them.

Perhaps the good, honest and hard-working losing effort against the Capitals can spin the Bruins back into a winning direction with a couple of road games in Florida staring them in the face.

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Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

WASHINGTON - GOLD STAR: All T.J. Oshie did was score a couple of goals that powered the Capitals for all of their offense in the second period while setting Washington up to win the third. The first score was a power-play goal right in front of the net that tied things up and the second was a nifty individual move where he split defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton before dangling around Clifton and roofing a backhander for a beautiful goal. Oshie finished with two shots on net and four shot attempts overall in 20:31 of ice time to go along with a blocked shot. Still, it was all about the offense provided when the Capitals needed it as a bit of a one-man goal-scoring show on a night when Alex Ovechkin was pretty much held in check.

BLACK EYE: Jake DeBrusk at least had a positive play when he fed Patrice Bergeron for a first-period, power-play goal that would have given the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Instead, the goal was wiped off the board by an offsides challenge and DeBrusk was a negative player for the Black and Gold for the rest of the night. DeBrusk finished with no points, no shots on net and had three giveaways in 20:50 while finishing with a minus-1 rating. He certainly wasn’t alone with not bringing enough to the table for the B’s, but it was him fading into the background in a physical, gritty game against a quality opponent that conjured up memories of his issues in the playoffs last season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins tied the score by grinding for a third-period goal from their fourth line, but then they gave up a go-ahead goal less than two minutes later. Then the B’s proceeded to get outshot 11-9 in the third period despite never leading at any point in the final 20 minutes and never really mounting enough pressure to potentially tie it to pus things to the extra session. It’s a massive letdown for the B’s to claw all the way back and then watch as it goes up in smoke in just a couple of minutes, but it was about Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson – two of Washington’s best players – stepping up and making the play when it needed to be made.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak snapped his longest goal-scoring drought of the season at four games as he scored the first goal for the Bruins on a sizzling wrist shot. It was a nice transition play from Charlie McAvoy bombing down the left side before moving cross-ice to Pastrnak at the bottom of the face-off circle. Pastrnak snapped it off the crossbar and into the back of the net for his NHL-leading 26th goal and got Boston off to a good start for the first time in a while. Pastrnak finished with the goal, seven shot attempts, a hit and three takeaways in 21:16 while playing a strong, solid, Pastrnak-like game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – the number of consecutive losses for the Bruins. They have lost four in a row one other time this season, but it’s the first time they’ve lost three regulation games in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just told him I'm happy for him and congrats. He looks like he's got a six-pack now, so I'm just happy for him. It was great to see him. It's been a while." –Brad Marchand, on what he said to former teammate Tim Thomas when he was on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop as a new inductee for the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

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