At 3:16 p.m. on Saturday, Claude Julien walked off the home bench at TD Garden for the final time in the regular season. It may be the last time Julien executes such a journey.
The Bruins coach could lose his job if his employers are trying to issue blame instead of solving problems. There will be plenty of fingers pointed after a 6-1 loss to Ottawa in the regular-season finale: at Julien, the management team, the players, or even the health of Tuukka Rask, who couldn’t play in the season’s most critical game because he was sick.
But for Saturday’s segment, the Bruins had only themselves to blame for cratering in the second period, turning a 1-0 advantage into a 4-1 horror show.
“We had the one-goal lead,” Torey Krug said. “From there, I don’t know if we thought it was going to be an easy night or what. It’s just sad to see that we played the way that we did, especially with things in our hands. We tried to give ourselves a chance to get in the playoffs. We just didn’t.”
Their failure to show up against Ottawa, combined with Philadelphia’s 3-1 win over Pittsburgh, officially sent the Bruins golfing early for the second straight season. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs has missed out on millions of postseason revenue. Jacobs’s management team of CEO Charlie Jacobs and president Cam Neely is in position to make significant changes for a second time. They fired general manager Peter Chiarelli last year. Julien could be next to go.
It has been an emotional and abrupt halt to a run that did not appear to be ending so swiftly. On March 14, the Bruins were in first place in the Atlantic Division with 86 points. They were 10 points clear of Philadelphia, the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference. They were 7 points ahead of the Red Wings. They caved in at exactly the wrong time, finishing the season with a 3-8-1 whimper.
The Bruins expected to strut out of the Garden with a second straight win, much like the victory they secured against the Red Wings two days earlier. But they are a team subject to peaks and valleys.
On Saturday, they bottomed out.
With a win, the Bruins could have secured third place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round showdown against Tampa Bay. They never even approached a whiff of a 2-point result. The one-goal lead they had, following a David Pastrnak score at 5:04 of the first, was an illusion that clouded reality in the opening period.
They were playing poorly, being outshot by a 17-10 margin.
“We had that lead,” Zdeno Chara said. “But we came in after the first and we knew we had to be better. They scored a quick couple of goals. That’s when it was kind of catching up to us from the previous period.”
As much as the Bruins struggled in the first, it didn’t compare with their second-period meltdown. It was a misfit collection of bad decisions, critical cough-ups, brutal backchecks, compounded by a complete absence of an answer. The Bruins tucked their tails instead of punching back.
“In the past, we’ve done a really good job of bouncing back when other teams have scored goals and pushing them back on their heels,” Krug said. “Tonight, I thought we let it get out of our grasp. We’ve just got to do a better job to respond to those goals.”
The wheels started to fall off at 1:42, when Chris Neil punched in a net-front goal. Ryan Dzingel went wide on Colin Miller and wheeled around the net. The laugh track started when a sliding John-Michael Liles wiped out Jonas Gustavsson, preventing the goalie from pushing to his left. Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey both backchecked on Nick Paul, which left Neil open in front to tie the game.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s interception of Kevan Miller’s clearing attempt led to Ottawa’s second goal. The Senators zipped the puck around the perimeter until it came to Erik Karlsson at the right point. Karlsson spotted Zack Smith, who had separated himself from coverage in the high slot. Smith tipped Karlsson’s pass past Gustavsson at 5:54.
Ben Harpur’s long-distance flip from deep in the Ottawa zone created the third goal. Because the Bruins were stretched out, they couldn’t slow down the Senators’ advance through the neutral zone. By the time Phil Varone approached the right circle, it was too late. Matt Puempel had driven through the middle, put down his stick, and tapped in Varone’s dish at 8:39 before Pastrnak approached on the backcheck.
The bludgeoning ended at 10:00. Adam McQuaid, under forechecking heat from Alex Chiasson, tried to go up the right-side wall. Mike Hoffman, who had taken away the boards, was in the right spot to pick off McQuaid’s pass. Before the Bruins could react, Hoffman slid a cross-crease pass for Mika Zibanejad to tuck home.
The Senators were up, 4-1. The Bruins had blown their season.
“The mistakes, the turnovers,” Julien said. “We weren’t moving the puck well. The puck pursuit we had the other night wasn’t there also. Our “A” game that we needed tonight just wasn’t there. In a lot of areas.”