This one was as crushing as any in recent memory. Because this Bruins team was supposed to return to the Stanley Cup Final. It was supposed to challenge Chicago or Los Angeles or Anaheim, supposed to make up for the devastating disappointment of last season.
This team was built to win. And, had it not been for frustrating posts and missed nets and an ACL/MCL tear to Dennis Seidenberg’s knee, it might just have done that.
“It’s really tough,” Brad Marchand said. “I think we expected to go all the way this year. It’s very tough; it’s very disappointing. It’s hard to really put into words. It’s . . . we expected a lot more.”
Instead, the Bruins fell to the Canadiens in Game 7 of their second-round series Wednesday night at TD Garden, ending their season with a 3-1 loss to their most bitter rival after being up in the series, 3-2. As Milan Lucic said, “I think we just didn’t play our game when we needed to in these last two.”
“We definitely didn’t play our best,” Patrice Bergeron said. “It’s the team that plays the best at this time that goes forward, and it wasn’t us. We definitely could have been — should have been — a lot better.”
It was a series that, so many times, had seemed to be theirs for the taking, despite inconsistent — and often downright poor — play. The Canadiens used their speed, their ability to block shots, the brilliance of their goaltender, to take the series to a seventh game. And the Bruins used missed chances and slow reads and defensive miscues to give it to them.
The disappointments had come from all over — from Zdeno Chara, and their young defense, and their top line. No one area was to blame, not entirely. But after the game, after it was all over, it was David Krejci taking the loss and the end on himself.
“As a top centerman if you don’t put the puck in the net in two rounds, you don’t give the chance to the team to win the game or the series,” said Krejci, who had just two assists against Montreal, one on an empty-netter. “I felt like I could have put the puck in the net a couple times, but I didn’t, so I didn’t do my job in the playoffs.”
Krejci and his linemates had, in fact, had their best game of the series after suffering through so many squandered opportunities earlier. It was Krejci’s drop pass to Torey Krug that resulted in the shot and Jarome Iginla tip for Boston’s only goal, at 17:58 of the second. The line had six shots on goal, three attempts blocked, and four more misses.
The Bruins, for example, had a stellar chance to tie the game at 4:20 of the third, Krejci putting the puck on net. Carey Price made the save, but the rebound bounced to Iginla in front of the net, and his backhand shot hit the left post.
Perhaps that should have been expected in a series in which the Bruins’ shots were calibrated just a little bit off. Throughout the series they found more posts and crossbars than nets, the inches mattering over and over, nearly as much as the play of Price.
The problem, though, was really the first period, at least in this game. As Lucic said, “That’s why we lost.”
The Bruins came out slow and tentative and off, something coach Claude Julien chalked up to the “nervousness” of so many first-year players in the lineup. They didn’t look like the Bruins team that inhabited the Garden all season. And so, not surprisingly, the Canadiens were able to take advantage of a miscue on defense for the first score.
It took all of 2:18, just seven seconds longer than it had in Game 6. After a Matt Bartkowski clearing attempt went right into Andrei Markov, the puck ended up with Brandon Prust by the endboards. When Gregory Campbell went to help Johnny Boychuk on him, Prust passed to an open Daniel Briere, who fed Dale Weise on the right side of the crease for the score.
“I think the last two games we made some uncharacteristic mistakes, and that ended up costing us the series,” Tuukka Rask said. “It’s not that it’s anybody’s fault, but it’s just we couldn’t take the next step as a team and raise our game.”
Still, the Bruins finished the first period down by just that one goal. They hadn’t completely given it away, not yet. But at 10:22 of the second, they allowed a second goal, and the game and the season seemed to be slipping.
It was finally over with 2:53 left to play in the third, when the Canadiens got a gift goal from Briere off Chara’s left skate on the power play. The third period was not the Bruins’ — the best third-period team in hockey in the regular season — and neither was the series.
All that was left in the postgame dressing room were regrets, with Iginla having lost one of his best chances to hoist the Stanley Cup, with a few players facing perhaps the end of their time in Boston, with at least one playoff beard already shaved 45 minutes after it had ended.
They knew they had been good enough to win. But, in the end, they weren’t.
“Yeah,” Rask said of the disappointment, “especially when you think you have a great team and we did have a great team. But it goes to prove again that winning the regular season doesn’t mean anything.
“Played a pretty decent first series and then this series we kind of didn’t take that next step and improve our game and that’s it. That’s just the reality and we have to live with it.”
The Bruins have endured seven straight seasons with at least one Game 7 appearance. They are now 4-5 in Game 7s under Claude Julien, who was head coach in each season.
2008 East quarterfinals; L 5-0, at Canadiens 2
2009 East semifinals; L 3-2, vs. Hurricanes (OT)
2010 East semifinals; L 4-3, vs. Flyers
2011 East quarterfinals; W 4-3, vs. Canadiens (OT)
2011 East finals; W 1-0, vs. Lightning
2011 Stanley Cup Final; W 4-0, at Canucks
2012 East quarterfinals; L 2-1, vs. Capitals (OT)
2013 East quarterfinals; W 5-4, vs. Maple Leafs (OT)
2014 East semifinals; L 3-1, vs. Canadiens