By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
Last night was a heart-breaking loss on many different levels, and a result Bruins fans did not expect during the season. The Bruins were steamrolling its competition in the regular season, cruising to the top of the league’s standings. The President Trophy winners were the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, even after the NHL’s Return to Play announcement. Unfortunately, the Bruins never consistently showed the same regular-season tenacity and are heading home way too early.
Many fans will bash the NHL for its Return to Play schedule, where the Bruins had to play three more games to warrant the top seed in the East. Let’s be clear; unfortunately, the Bruins’ regular season point total did not result in the East’s top seed. However, the Bruins did not come close to showing the NHL that it deserved the number one seed in the Return to Play. Each team had the same starting position, and the Bruins controlled their own destiny. They did not play up to caliber for a number one seed.
The Bruins came out flat against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the exhibition. The team allowed two goals in 18 seconds and scored their lone goal in the second period. Bruins nation chalked it up as a slow start due to the pandemic and insisted the team would be fine during the round-robin. However, the Bruins never led in any of their round-robin games and only scored four combined goals. For reference, the Bruins scored 227 goals in the regular-season, which equates to 3.24 goals per game and ranked 9th in the entire league. At the end of the playoffs, the Bruins goals-per-game fell to 2.23.
The Bruins’ first playoff match-up was against a team they had playoff experience against in the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins swept the Hurricanes in last year’s playoffs, and nearly did this year. Tuukka Rask announced his departure after two games against the Hurricanes and the organization turned to Jaroslav Halak to lead the charge.
The Bruins beat Carolina in five games, but still didn’t look their full selves. There were plenty of flashes, and they strung together some great games, but they never put forth a complete 60-minute domination. The Tampa Bay Lightning awaited after beating the Blue Jackets in five games as well.
The Bruins won game one and took a 1-0 series lead on Tampa. The Bruins scored one goal each period, while Tampa made a late push, but it was too little too late for the Lightning. The Bruins looked a tad lost in game two and allowed Tampa’s offensive weapons to get behind their defense, leading to an overtime loss. Things went from bad to worse in game three and never turned around.
Game three was one of the worst showings the Bruins had in a playoff series in nearly 30 years. The Bruins allowed the Lightning to score seven goals to their one. The Bruin skaters left their goalies out to dry in this game and could not overcome adversity.
Each of the three pictures above shows how poorly the Bruins played in the most crucial moments. Tampa had at least one step ahead of the closest Bruin, and the Bruins allowed Tampa’s lethal weapons to have prime real estate in from their goal. This game (and the series) was not lost because Rask left the bubble. Tuukka may have given the team a better chance to win, but Halak and Vladar were placed in incredibly difficult positions and were left out to dry. The Bruins did not put forth a full 60-minute effort consistently and outright quit at times. They looked lost and overpowered against Tampa and could not overcome adversity, which is ironic because Tampa had the same issue last year against the Blue Jackets.
Bruins media and its organization have touted how closely matched these two teams are, but frankly, this series showed those claims are myths. Tampa Bay was by far the better, faster, and stronger team this series. Tampa’s large defensive players took every opportunity to shoot the puck at the point into a wave of blue and black and gold jerseys. Tampa Bay scored the majority of their goals either off of odd-man rushes or deflections. Jon Cooper and his team had a perfect game-plan to park big bodies out front of the Bruin goalies, like Pat Maroon, to set up screens and tip shots that come towards the net.
The Bruins were also undisciplined and gave Tampa countless opportunities to score on the power-play. The Lightning were 0 for 16, heading into game three of the series on the power-play. The Bruins decided to test that record, and the Lightning netted three power-play goals in game three. The Bruins ranked third in the regular-season on the penalty kill, killing 84.3% of their penalties. By the end of this playoffs, their percentage declined to 82.9%. The 1.4% change may not seem like a lot, but in-game power-play goals can change momentum instantly.
In the elimination game, the Bruins looked like their old selves; unfortunately, it was too little too late. Jaroslav Halak played unbelievably and gave his team a chance to win.
Tampa scored the series-ending goal in double overtime, sending the Bruins home. Zdeno Chara may have played his final game as a Bruins, and David Krejci explained what every Bruin fan has been fearing.
This Bruins team may have a different makeup next year. Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara, and a few more require contracts, and the Bruins have $15M in cap space. General Manager, Don Sweeney, has a long list of to-do items in the shortened off-season. Many difficult yet necessary decisions will be made. The “core” that Krejci mentions genuinely does have one to three years left. Thankfully, a few bright spots in this year’s playoff could be shaping the new core.
Head Coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a few lineup changes that did not pay dividends like inserting John Moore and playing 11 forwards. However, the changes that did work included Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka, who both played alongside Charlie Coyle in game five.
Bjork and Studnicka looked like they belonged and took advantage of their opportunities. They looked comfortable with the speed and physicality of the game. Bjork landed four shots on goal and played 18:30 minutes, while Studnicka surpassed 17 minutes and one shot on goal. Coyle landed ten shots on goal and looked to be comfortable with his line-mates.
Patrice Bergeron doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all and has continued to dominate the opposition. He will continue to center the first line come next season.
The “what if” questions will linger over these playoffs. What if the Bruins’ regular-season point total had landed them the top seed? What if the season had played through without the pandemic? Unfortunately, we have an answer to what occurred, and the Bruins did not play up to their potential. It was a disappointing showing from a team who showed they belonged in the Stanley Cup. Bruins fans will have to wait another year and hopefully one with the original core for another run.