Last season went well enough; the Bruins finished third in the Eastern Conference with a 39-30-31 record. After defeating the number three seed Buffalo Sabres in the first round and jumping to a 3-0 series lead against the gritty Philadelphia Flyers, it seemed that nothing stood in the way of a trip to the finals.
And then history was made.
The Flyers came back from a 3-0 deficit in game seven to capture the series and send the Bruins packing. While the orange and black headed to dance with Chicago for the cup, the Bruins headed home.
Only five wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals, what went wrong for the B’s?
Though they were felt on both sides of the ice, injuries were a key part of the Bruins’ season and their premature exit from the postseason. The Flyers missed Jeff Carter, Ian Lapperiere, and Brian Boucher, while Boston’s scratches included Dennis Seidenberg, Marco Sturm, and Mark Stuart.
Despite all these absences, there were two injuries that ultimately changed the momentum of the series: David Krejci’s wrist and Simon Gagne’s foot. The Bruins went 0-4 after they lost Krejci to his injury, and the Flyers went 4-0 after Gagne was able to return to the lineup. Krejci tallied three points in the first three games of the series. On the other side of the ice, Gagne notched four goals and one assist after his return. Gagne scored the overtime winner in Game 4 to keep the series alive, and eventually netted the game winner in Game 7 that sealed the Boston’s fate.
While it’s difficult to blame any team’s collapse solely on a goaltender, Tuukka Rask undeniably contributed to the demise of the Bruins. During the season, the Finnish rookie stole the starting job from 2009 Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas with a stellar GAA of 1.97 and save percentage of .931. Just a year removed from a painful defeat in the Calder Cup Eastern Conference finals, where Rask gave up five goals in the final game of the series, it seemed that Rask lacked the experience and confidence of a goalie ready to lead his club to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Bruins had the lead in this series of three games to none. In Game 4, the Bruins scored the first goal. But no matter how hard they tried, Boston couldn’t keep the Flyers from fighting back. The Bruins were shutout 4-0 in Game 5. In the end, it was plain to see: Philadelphia had more heart and drive. There is nothing besides heart and drive that can bring a team back from a 3-0 hole in Game 7.
What needs to change this year?
The Bruins need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, they’ve started off on the wrong foot with Mark Savard and Marco Sturm. Savard addressed the media recently about his post-concussion syndrome, stating that he would not be traveling with the team to Europe so that he could continue his rehab. GM Peter Chiarelli is hopeful that he will be able to return by later November. Winger Marco Sturm is also recovering from off-season knee surgery and won’t return until at least mid-November.
The Bruins must increase their offensive production; last season, the B’s scored a league worst 2.39 goals per game. While they held their opponents to a second best 2.33 goals per game, Boston won’t get far without more offense. Producing more points could prove to be difficult with the losses of Savard and Sturm for the opening months of the season. New additions Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton should be able to fill this gap. Horton had 295 points in 422 games with the Florida Panthers, and Seguin produced 173 points with the Plymouth Whalers in just 124 games.
Tim Thomas has to step up and reclaim his starting position, which he began to do this preseason. The veteran played his best season in 2008-2009 with a GAA of 2.10 and a save percentage of .933. Thomas needs to return to these numbers and give the Bruins the consistent support they need between the pipes. Should he fail, Rask now has a season of NHL play under his belt, and should be a solid replacement if he can avoid a sophomore slump. Either way, the Bruins can expect one of the best goaltending duos in the league.
After the way last season ended, the Bruins have the motivation they need to work their way to the Stanley Cup. If they can get healthy, manage their goaltending situation, and score goals, it won’t be surprising to see them battling for the top spots of the conference. Unfortunately, those are a lot of ifs.
by Sports Hub Guest Contributor Chelsea Frajerman