A disappointing game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins are left wondering how their postseason run ended so quickly. Following an excellent regular season campaign that ended with the Bruins winning the Presidents’ Trophy, Boston was the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite being the favorites in the series, and having a 3-2 series lead, the Bruins ultimately lost to the Canadiens in seven games. Being ousted in the second round certainly was not expected, but looking at how each team played during the series, it should have come as no surprise Montreal ultimately won the series.
When Dennis Seidenberg went down with a season-ending knee injury in late December, the Bruins were left to rely heavily on their young, inexperienced defensemen, or make a deal at the trade deadline. After seeing their young blue line play well after the Seidenberg injury, the Bruins opted to not bring in a top-four defenseman at the deadline. After an impressive showing by youngsters Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and Kevan Miller in the first round of the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings, it looked as though the Bruins had made the right choice to not make a major deal at the deadline. The second round against the Canadiens however was a completely different story.
As often happens during postseason play, the pressure intensified, and the inexperience of the Bruins defensemen started to show. Matt Bartkowski in particular seemed to struggle, taking bad penalties and making mental mistakes with the puck. Bartkowski’s poor play eventually lead to him being a healthy scratch in a game.
Kevan Miller, another defensemen lacking playoff experience, fell victim to the pressures of playoff hockey. In game six of the series, Miller’s turnover lead to Montreal scoring the first goal in the game, just 02:11 into the game. Boston never looked comfortable in that game after falling behind and eventually lost 4-0. The mental mistakes made by Miller and Bartkowski were just a couple of many that were made in the series by Boston’s young defensemen.
It is tough to place much blame on the goaltender that is a Vezina Trophy finalist and made some great saves to keep his team in many of the games throughout the series, but Tuukka Rask certainly was not at his best in the series against Montreal. For the most part Rask played well, but there were a few soft goals that he let in. The Bruins needed Rask to outplay Carrie Price and except for a couple games, he did not.
The goal that sticks out the most in the series would have to be the breakaway goal Rask allowed in game three of the series. While it is tough to expect a goalie to make a save on a breakaway, the player who scored the goal was Dale Weise. Weise, a fourth-line player, had only six goals in the regular season and is nowhere close to being considered a “dangler”. It may be unfair to expect a save on a breakaway, but Rask is one of the top paid goalies in the league and needed to make that save. Had Rask been able to come up big in that situation, the Bruins would have had a much better chance of coming back in game three.
There is a certain level of luck that goes into every team’s success or failure in the playoffs. In the series against the Canadiens, the Bruins hit over at least a dozen posts. This could be considered bad “puck luck” by many, but in reality the Bruins just did a terrible job at burying their opportunities. Sure, a few times when the Bruins hit a post they had beaten Price clean and the puck simply did not go into the back of the net. Many of the hit posts however came on open-net chances that Boston’s skaters just had bad aim on. Whether it was a lack of skill of bad luck, the Bruins had plenty of opportunities in the series to put away the Canadiens.
The Bruins early exit in the playoffs was completely unexpected after and excellent regular season. Ultimately, Boston’s inexperience on the blue line and missed opportunities caused them to lose to Montreal in seven games. Few things went right for the Bruins in the series and a lot went wrong. At the end of the day however, most of went wrong in the series was caused by poor play and that will make for a very long offseason.