You will hear, for a long time, all the buzzwords regarding the Bruins' 6-1 finale loss on Saturday.
Choke. Collapse. No character. Gutless. Lack of leadership. Not enough urgency.
It's all nonsense.
They're empty phrases that stand as code to conceal the truth: The Bruins do not have enough good players.
Every team tries hard, from the president to the general manager to the coach to the players. The Bruins are no exception. They are like the 29 other organizations, among the most competitive and driven athletes on the planet. The Bruins didn't get clubbed in Saturday's must-win game because they didn't care, didn't try hard enough, or hate their coach.
They lost because they're not very good.
The Bruins tumbled out of the playoffs because of a 3-8-1 season-ending skid that earned them 7 rotten points. That's 1 fewer than what the Ducks pocketed when they coughed their way to a 3-7-2 start.
Although he was worried, Anaheim GM Bob Murray didn't chuck a grenade into the dressing room. He didn't boot Bruce Boudreau off the bench. Murray was patient. He was confident in the team he had built. Murray believed his players were slumping at the wrong time and that they had enough airspace to offset early turbulence.
Murray was right. Anaheim is set to chase the Stanley Cup because it is a good team. The Ducks have two varsity goalies in John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. They have a deep, talented, and mobile defense in Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Simon Despres. Up front, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler lead four lines of nasty that were singularly built to execute one thing: hunt the puck, keep it on their sticks, and take it to the net.
The Ducks were good enough to insulate themselves against their 12-game slump. The Bruins were not.
Don Sweeney asked Claude Julien to work his magic with a flawed defense. After the first-year GM traded Dougie Hamilton, Sweeney presented his coach with a misshapen collection of pieces: Zdeno Chara (a No. 1, albeit off his Norris Trophy peak), Torey Krug (offensive specialist who, on a good team, is a bottom-pairing defenseman), Adam McQuaid (second- or third-tandem defensive defenseman), a declining Dennis Seidenberg, a depth defender in Kevan Miller, and a whole lot of Providence in Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, and Matt Irwin. It was a bottom-heavy six-pack that had the market cornered on No. 6's and healthy scratches.
Sweeney gave Julien a pair of pants without a belt. By the end, the pants fell down.
Like all teams, the Bruins were able to assemble bursts of sunshine. They gained traction with six wins in seven games in the second half of October. They collected 12 of 14 points through a seven-game run in March that included wins over Chicago, Florida, and Tampa Bay, which landed them atop the Atlantic Division.
But they started the season with three straight losses in which they allowed 16 goals. They lost five of six games in late December and early January, including the 5-1 outdoor humiliation at Gillette Stadium against Montreal.
Eighty-two games was an unreasonable stretch to expect sustainable results from such a deficient defense. Over the regular season, good teams submit a smooth growth chart. The Bruins spiked violently all over the place.
Julien helped the Bruins achieve some results this year. He adjusted the breakout to quicken the pace, overload one or another side of the ice, and flood the offensive zone with numbers. The Bruins scored 2.88 goals per game, fifth most in the league. Brad Marchand (37), Patrice Bergeron (32), and Loui Eriksson (30) busted the 30-goal threshold. The three big dogs were complemented by David Krejci (17-46—63) and Matt Beleskey (15-22—37). Julien had five forwards who gave him a good idea of what to expect every game.
Similar consistency lower in the lineup did not take place. David Pastrnak is 19 years old. As such, he's subject to performance spikes. He was hurt twice. But as a second-year pro, Pastrnak played with more fear of getting hit and with less defensive caution than he did as a freshman. Ryan Spooner cratered in the last quarter, most likely due to an unspecified injury.
Then there were the ghosts: Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Joonas Kemppainen, Zac Rinaldo, and Max Talbot. Chief among them was Hayes, who went missing for his last 16 games.
Hayes has always been a streaky player. But that the Bruins traded Reilly Smith and Marc Savard's contract for Hayes reveals a frightening absence of judgment in player personnel. The Bruins were chasing a right-wing presence like Smith for the entire season. The Bruins' projection of the deal was as accurate as a forecaster predicting blue sky for a maelstrom.
This leaves the organization in a vulnerable spot: with two ex-Bruins who wore the Spoked-B proudly and the owner's son in danger of pushing the red button. Sweeney, president Cam Neely, and CEO Charlie Jacobs probably felt as sick as Tuukka Rask after the 6-1 thrashing, and rightly so.
This is not the time for Neely and Jacobs to be emotional and start chucking coaches and players into the drink. People make bad decisions when they're angry. They will be best served backing away from the trigger, surveying the big picture, and resolving to solve problems. It's their responsibility to supply Julien and the roster core with better players by putting their picks and prospects in play for adult defensemen.
But the front office operates in an environment of blame. In such cultures, punishment is the textbook move. That usually starts with the coach.