Had events taken place as he and his colleagues expected, Bruins president Cam Neely would be in the thick of the second round of the playoffs right now.
“I felt, like everybody, we could have gotten through this series,’’ Neely said Thursday during a press conference with Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and principal Charlie Jacobs at TD Garden. “I don’t think we played our best games at all in the games that we lost.
“Even in the games we won, I don’t think we played our best hockey. That part is difficult to swallow. We all feel we should still be playing.’’
Instead, the Bruins bosses are more than a week into the offseason, left to wonder how the defending Stanley Cup champions couldn’t advance past the opening round.
“We wanted to do better,’’ Jeremy Jacobs said. “We expected to do better. We had every reason to believe we’d do better.’’
Last week, general manager Peter Chiarelli stated that there would be no roster makeover. Neely bolstered that by noting that only tweaking is required.
The Bruins will stick with the template that worked in 2010-11: stellar goaltending, a shutdown defensive duo in Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, two balanced scoring lines, and depth and grit in the bottom-six and third-pairing areas.
Neely praised the club for its trademark commitment to defense. Under coach Claude Julien, the team’s identity is one of a club that creates offense from stout defense.
With Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask tending the crease, the Bruins allowed 2.43 goals per game, sixth-fewest in the league. By taking care of their own end, the Bruins turned defensive plays into offensive chances. They averaged 3.17 goals per game, second to Pittsburgh (3.33).
Neely noted the team’s even-strength dominance. During five-on-five situations, the Bruins scored a league-high 193 goals while allowing 146.
However, Neely trained his crosshairs on the team’s inconsistent power play as the principal area of required improvement. During the regular season, the Bruins had a 17.2 percent success rate, 15th overall. In the playoffs, they scored on just two of their 23 power-play opportunities (8.7 percent).
With the score tied late in the third period of Game 7 against the Capitals, the Bruins went on the power play but failed to convert. Washington’s Joel Ward then scored the overtime winner.
According to Neely, the Bruins have players who can be power-play difference-makers. Chara has one of the league’s hardest shots. There are three right-shot forwards in Tyler Seguin, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron who can man the left-side half-boards.
Those players, however, will need reprogramming. Assistant coach Geoff Ward is primarily responsible for the power play, while assistant Doug Jarvis has also worked on the man-advantage the last two seasons.
Neely didn’t say new assistants were necessary. But a different vision - more flow and movement instead of stationary formations - will be addressed.
“We really need to have a philosophical difference of how we look at the power play,’’ Neely said. “I don’t just look at the percentage of the power play. I look at when we get power plays, what the score of the game is, and what the time of the game is.
“That’s important. Even more so important than what the actual percentages of the power play.
“I think we have the personnel so we can improve on the power play. There’s some things we’re certainly going to discuss in the offseason on what we can do differently on the power play.’’
None of the three would comment on negotiations between the NHL and the Players Association. The collective bargaining agreement is scheduled to expire in September. Assuming there is no new CBA by July 1 - when free agency begins - the Bruins and every other team must be wary with signings and trades.
“It’s something you really have to take into consideration with what we’re going to do this offseason,’’ Neely said. “There’s so much uncertainty of where we’re going to end up.’’
If the 2012-13 season starts on time, the Bruins will have approximately four months between their last game and the start of camp. Last year, they had just two months off.
“Mentally, I think it was a bigger grind than anybody really expected,’’ Neely said. “You play into mid-June like we did. You start camp in September.
“Playoff hockey is tough hockey. It’s very demanding mentally and physically. I certainly hope our players take this offseason to really understand and remember the feeling of what it’s like to lose in the playoffs and not win that final game.’’
The Bruins also will continue to seek an upgrade over their practice facility, Ristuccia Arena, Charlie Jacobs confirmed. They have one year remaining on their deal with the Wilmington rink.
The Bruins’ facility is showing its age compared with those of their rivals (Montreal’s Bell Sports Complex and Toronto’s MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence are among the league’s best).
“We’d like to think of our training facility and practice facilities as a drawing card for players that might be playing in other markets,’’ said Jacobs. “Look at us, and say, ‘Geez, I’d love to come to Boston. Not only for the atmosphere but for the environment.’
“The practice facility really does need to be world-class in that regards.’’