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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It's absurd people are worried about Bruins after losing glorified exhibition games

It's absurd people are worried about Bruins after losing glorified exhibition games

The panic level for Bruins fans entering this week’s playoff round after an admittedly limp performance in the round-robin games is bordering on the absurd.

There’s no doubting the B’s put pretty much zero import into the results during the three round-robin games against the Flyers, Lightning and Capitals, but instead focused on two things:

A) Building their game over the two weeks leading into the real Stanley Cup Playoffs.

B) Staying healthy headed into the games that actually matter after watching Victor Hedman potentially go down with an injury for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bruins averaged a paltry 1.33 goals per game in the round robins and went a putrid 0-for-9 power play, and the Perfection Line managed just a single point between Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak in the three round-robin games. But they accomplished the two main goals they had in round-robin games they comically viewed as “preseason games” rather than playoff games that count as such in the NHL record books.

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Brad Marchand said as much when asked about the round-robin games following Monday’s practice in the Toronto bubble.

“Collectively, we just have to improve with each game. With the way it was set up, it’s not like it was the playoffs and it was do-or-die. Obviously, each game [moving forward] means a lot more. The pride and the willingness to do the extra things that maybe we weren’t doing during preseason [will be there],” said Marchand.

“What we’ve gone through the last four games doesn’t mean anything. Those were preseason games. Let’s call it what it is, those [round robin] games were exhibition games for the playoffs. We were in the same position as other teams and it was hard to have the same mentality as a playoff series.”

Full disclosure, this humble hockey writer is getting a kick out of panicked fans going all Chicken Little about the Bruins pretty much sucking in the round robin. They may feel pretty silly once the President’s Trophy-winning B’s show up for the real playoffs starting Tuesday night against the Hurricanes.

The bottom line: Absolutely nobody is going to be talking about the round-robin results a couple of weeks from now in a scenario where seeding doesn’t even really matter.

The B's clearly didn’t care about the round-robin games and said as much publicly and privately as a veteran hockey club that knows they had nothing to prove aside from getting ready for what’s next. The Blues did the same thing in the West, so it’s pretty instructive the two teams that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last summer had absolutely no use for these glorified exhibition games.

Conversely, it makes sense that a team like the young, eager Flyers dominated the round robin. They have something to prove after getting back into the postseason this year, and their young, skilled group will ultimately be tested in the real playoff games.

Now the Bruins have a path in the Eastern Conference where they’ll face Carolina in the first round, potentially see the Flyers in the second round and might put off a difficult playoff series with Washington or Tampa until the Eastern Conference Finals based on being the No. 4 seed.

That’s actually as good as it could have worked out for the Black and Gold.

They stayed healthy, worked on what they needed to in practice and steadily improved their play as they went along. Their best performance was the Sunday loss to the Capitals in the round-robin finale where Braden Holtby stood on his head. That was their goal.

Getting mad about them treating round-robin games like the preseason is kind of missing the point when they’ve got much bigger fish to fry with a Stanley Cup window that’s quickly closing.

The other absurd fallacy is that a team like the Bruins can’t “flip a switch” and just turn it on once the actual Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

How about just last season when the B's lost four of their last seven games, got whacked by the Lightning twice and the Perfection Line was playing awful hockey at the very end of the regular season?

Everybody assumed the Bruins were doomed to lose to the Lightning in the second round of the playoffs and instead they pushed all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It certainly felt like they “flipped the switch” with a veteran group when it was put up or shut up time in the postseason, didn’t it?

The Bruins might even struggle a bit in the first period of Game 1 on Tuesday night as they acclimatize to the win-or-go-home intensity Carolina played with in the qualifying round series against the Rangers. There was no way to replicate that in the round robin.  

But anybody who thinks the real Bruins aren’t going to show up in the real playoffs after coasting through the round robin hasn’t really watched how this proven, grizzled Bruins team operates over the last 10 years. It’s too bad because you’re missing a pretty good hockey team that’s got a full tank of gas headed into another Stanley Cup playoff run.

Rangers win 2020 NHL Draft lottery, chance to select Alexis Lafreniere

Rangers win 2020 NHL Draft lottery, chance to select Alexis Lafreniere

The New York Rangers will have the No. 1 overall selection in this year's NHL Draft.

They were the winners of Monday night's draft lottery, which means they'll have the chance to select highly touted prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

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The Rangers finished the regular season with 79 points and were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes -- the Boston Bruins' first-round playoff opponent -- in their qualifying round series.

Lafrenière, 18, is almost unanimously considered the obvious pick at No. 1. While the Rangers are already in pretty good shape at left wing, it'll be hard to pass up the opportunity to draft a generational talent.

The NHL Draft is scheduled to take place Oct. 9.