For the first time in 1,069 days, Bostonian hockey fans finally witnessed the return of Bruins playoff hockey to the TD Garden. Four days later, the old break-up advice “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” sounds like salt in the wound for many Bruins fans. Yes, we finally had another chance to enjoy the intensity and atmosphere of the NHL playoffs, but after the Bruins’ first two games in Boston, it seems more of a curse than a blessing. I almost wish the Bruins flamed out in the last five games, just as they did in the previous two seasons. The two games in Boston saw the Bruins endure such frustrating losses, that the pain has almost reached an unbearable level. Following the circus of Monday night, Bruins fans took in another excruciating game that ended in a one goal loss. This time, fans saw the Bruins appear to jump out to a lead just over halfway into the period. Finally, the Bruins had forced the Senators to abandon their 1-3-1 in order to play catch up. Unfortunately, Senators coach Guy Boucher doused that flame faster than a man putting out a candle with a fire hose. After a short review, the referees determined that goal scorer Noel Acciari had entered the offensive zone (a full twenty-seconds before) offsides by maybe four inches. As a result, officials overturned the goal, TD garden erupted into a bedlam of booing and shortly thereafter retreated into silence.
The game remained scoreless and halfway through the third period, newly minted Bruins killer Bobby Ryan told the Bruins and their fans, that this playoff thing really wasn’t going to work, and that they should go their separate ways. The Bruins barely fought back and once the final horn sounded, Boston found themselves down three games to one and packing for Ottawa again. All of this sounds very morose, especially considering that the series isn’t over, but when you look at the big picture, it is. Throughout the series, the Bruins haven’t managed a complete effort on offense and defense. In games one and four, the Bruins played a strong defensive game, helping Tuukka play well behind them, but struggled to create offense. In games two and three, the Bruins demonstrated an ability to break through the trap and put goals on the board. However, while they scored efficiently, Show shots and goals stat, they fell victim to poor defensive play and undisciplined penalties. Game 4 Game four saw the Bruins play a more effective form of defense against the Senators. Zdeno Chara played more physically, punishing players for lurking in front of the net during man-down situations. Kevan Miller continued to fly around the ice, hitting everything that moved and blocking shots. The Bruins tied their series low for shots against at 27. Boston’s only mistake cost them dearly. With slightly over 14 minutes remaining in the regulation, Ottawa sealed the Bruins into their own zone and maintained control of the puck. Derick Brassard made a pass to Erik Karlsson who rocketed a perfect shot-pass to Bobby Ryan. The fake shot-pass fooled Rask who dove across the net along with Zdeno Chara to stop Ryan’s first attempt until Ryan’s second attempt trickled past the goal line. (2:29)
Once again Erik Karlsson, the outright MVP of this series, made an amazing play that left Tuukka badly exposed. While his pass was excellent, rookie defender Charlie McAvoy, winger Drew Stafford, and center Ryan Spooner dropped the ball on this one. With the puck at the point, Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara doubled-teamed Viktor Stålberg in front of the net. As the puck made it’s way across the blue line, McAvoy failed to notice Bobby Ryan streaking towards the goal. Instead, he remained next to Chara and Stålberg not seeing Ryan in time to provide much resistance. Ryan had multiple attempts on goal and eventually converted the chance. The blame doesn’t fall squarely on McAvoy. Drew Stafford, a winger, who’s assigned to cover the point man, in this case, Erik Karlsson, found himself in no man’s land for much of the shift. When Karlsson distributed the puck, Stafford stood woefully out of position. Finally, Ryan Spooner, as the center, needs to provide support in front of the net. Instead, he tried to defend Derick Brassard on the point, who Frank Vatrano already had covered. While three players shoulder the blame, one can attribute McAvoy’s error to the Bruins’ injured defensive core. Yes, Charlie McAvoy has more than held his own considering he’s only played four games in the NHL and defensemen tend to adjust to the pace slower than forwards. McAvoy has found himself among the leaders in time-on-ice among skaters in the series. With that much playing time a rookie, already prone to “learning experiences” increases his chances to make a mistake. Unfortunately, it came to fruition at the worst possible time for the Bruins. On the other hand, nearly thirty minutes per game of playing time is bound to take a toll on a 40-year-old as well. Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy have played well, but the Bruins have now paid the price for being forced into playing these two players so much. The defense doesn’t completely shoulder the blame either. The Bruins did not score in game four (although they thought they did) and Boston’s goal scorers continued to struggle. Although Marchand scored the game winner in game one and Pasternak and Bergeron scored in games two and three, they have not scored enough to make the difference, and compared to the Senators star players, they have had little influence on the series. Take a look at the Bruins’ best players stats:
Brad Marchand: 1 goal, no assists, even plus-minus David Pasternak: 1 goal, 2 assists, even plus-minus David Krejci (2 games): no goals, no assists, minus one Patrice Bergeron: 1 goal, 1 assist, plus one David Backes: 1 goal, one assist, plus one Considering that two of these players surpassed 30 goals this season things look bleak. Erik Karlsson: 0 goals, 5 assists, plus one Bobby Ryan: 3 goals, 2 assists, plus one Mike Hoffman: 2 goals, 2 assists, plus one Kyle Turris: 0 goals, 1 assist, minus 1 Mark Stone: 0 goals, 1 assist, plus 3 Of Ottawa’s ten goals in the series, their best players account for five. They total 16 points overall, more than doubling the Bruins’ stars output. Additionally, if you look at the very cream of the crop, the difference is drastic. Erik Karlsson, a defenseman, albeit, the best offensive defenseman in the league, has five points, and has an assist in every game winning, game tying or go ahead goal for the Senators except for one. Brad Marchand has scored a single game-winning goal and that’s it. It’s clear the Bruins cannot shut down Ottawa’s best, and Boston’s best can’t penetrate Ottawa’s defense. The Bruins’ power play ineffectiveness is either a symptom or a contributor to this problem. The Bruins’ best players get the most time on the power play and it has struggled. The Bruins have two power play goals and an 18% success rate. Their regular season rate is over 20%, good for seventh in the league overall. A lack of success on the power play constrains the production of a team’s top players. Finally, an inability to score on the power play has added to the Bruins inability to jump out to a lead. Trailing a team that plays a trap like the Ottawa Senators makes things much harder because those teams are confident holding a lead. Ottawa is the only team who ranked in the bottom third of the league during the regular season in goals per game, to make the playoffs. This means they play stellar defense, largely because of the 1-3-1. If you trail a team like that, it’s a death sentence and the Bruins, have led for all of 18 minutes and 52 seconds of the series. Considering that there have been more than 240 minutes of playing time in the series, that is weak. So what hope do the Bruins have left? I say next to none. Every fan knows that overcoming a three games to none or one deficit isn’t likely. The Bruins playoff roster consists of eleven players with playoff experience. I don’t think the Bruins glut of young players has the experience or ability to dig out of this hole. Say what you will about how not understanding the gravity of being down three games to one may make it easier for the Bruins to come back, without Boston’s top players being able to score, it won’t happen. Finally, they need to lock down Erik Karlsson, which they have not shown an ability to do. Doing it over the next three games won’t happen. Enjoy the end of the Bruins’ season Friday at 7:30 pm.