The Boston Bruins may not have reached the Stanley Cup finals this year, but their overall season performance is nothing to be ashamed of. After a slow start, losing five of nine games in October, possibly due to a few growing pains and the notable absence of their star center man, Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins rallied, finding the energy and inspiration needed to catapult themselves to a second place standing in the Eastern Conference.
Bergeron missed the first five games due to a mysterious lower-body injury. His return to the lineup on October 19 against the Vancouver Canucks brought forth the energy and momentum the Bruins were looking for. Putting up one goal and three assists for a 6-3 win, Bergeron proved why he is one of the best players in the league.
When Bergeron is on the ice, the other guys step up their game and it was apparent by the way they seemed to come alive upon his return.
The addition of a few dynamic young players seemed to boost Boston’s threat level, as well. Valuable additions like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, and Danton Heinen to name a few. McAvoy very quickly proved himself to be a vital asset, scoring more than one game-winner for the B’s, most notably an impressive shootout goal against the Winnipeg Jets on his 20th birthday. McAvoy totaled 32 points in his rookie season.
Many critics were skeptical of what some have called the “youth movement” on the B’s roster this year, believing too many young guys would be a detriment to the team due to their lack of experience in the National Hockey League. Jake DeBrusk was quick to make the naysayers eat their words, showcasing his speed, skill, and an abundance of heart to score 16 goals and 27 assists for a total of 43 points for the regular season. What’s even more impressive, he tied two of the Bruins top scorers, Bergeron and Pastrnak, for six goals in the playoffs.
A combination of skill, grit, confidence under pressure, and resilience helped pull the team up by their laces and they continued to win game after game as the season wore on. Spurred by the deadly combination of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak, who collectively put up 99 goals for the regular season and 16 in the playoffs, the Bruins seemed nearly unstoppable.
The mid-season trade deadline brought even more talent to an already robust roster, including Rick Nash, Brian Gionta, and Tommy Wingels, making the Bruins strong contenders for the Stanley Cup for the first time in a long time. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the acquisition of Ryan Donato in March, who came in hot, scoring five goals in 12 games in his NHL debut.
So, the question is, what happened in round 2 against Tampa Bay? Boston fans watched helplessly as their beloved team fell apart after Game 1 in the series, unable to capitalize on the many opportunities they put on net in the next four games.
The Lightning quickly bounced back after a 6-2 Game 1 loss, beating the Bruins at their own game. They were crashing the net, shutting down shooting lanes, and destroying any opportunity the B’s might have had to score. It was clear their game plan included shutting down the B’s top line and shut them down they did, putting bodies in front of the net and breaking up passes anytime Bergeron, Marchand, or Pastrnak were in possession of the puck.
One might also argue poor officiating, which forced the B’s to contend with not only a tough Tampa Bay team, but the refs, as well. And while that certainly is a fair argument, it was not what ultimately drove the nail into the coffin of the Bruins season.
As DeBrusk was quick to learn, playing through injuries is not an easy thing to do, even when you are desperate to help your team win.
“It was something I had to learn to go through,” DeBrusk said. “I played lots of playoffs growing up, but not at this level, especially with that amount of pain. It felt like I couldn’t really do too, too much out there, but at the same time, I wasn’t getting out of the lineup. I believed I could help the team win.”
DeBrusk wasn’t the only one toughing it out to play through an injury during the playoffs and it was clear that despite their tremendous heart, the B’s just couldn’t overcome Tampa’s excessive speed and skill when they weren’t operating at their highest level.
Losing Krug to an ankle injury after an awful crash into the boards in Game 4 certainly did not help matters for the Bruins either. Especially since he has been one of the B’s strongest assets on the power play, where we struggled to make anything happen all series. Injuries to both Backes and Nash in Game 5 also shortened the bench significantly and the Bruins just couldn’t make up for it in other areas.
A series of unfortunate events for the Bruins spelled their demise in their quest for the Cup, but this season was a great learning opportunity for the rookies, and I have no doubt the B’s will come back even stronger next season.