BOSTON (CBS) — Make no mistake about it — the Boston Bruins underachieved in the 2014 playoffs. They were a team built to at least make the conference finals, and given that the opponent waiting for them there was the New York Rangers, the Bruins very fairly could have been expected to be in the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year and the third time in four years.
The Bruins didn’t do what they were supposed to do, and that will no doubt leave the fans in Boston enraged for the summer months to come.
However, none of that should take away from the fact that the Montreal Canadiens played a very impressive series and unquestionably deserved to win. These Habs were different from those of years past — they didn’t back down, they never relented, they knew exactly how to drive the dagger deep, and they knew when to do it.
It’s true that the Canadiens were much too hung up on “respect,” as it seemed like they preferred and/or expected the Bruins to give them hugs and kisses out on the ice instead of trying to beat them. It was strange for the Habs to bang the “disrespect” drum so often, considering the biggest offenses by the Bruins were a goal celebration, a water bottle squirt to agitate an agitator, and a scrum that was initiated by Andrei Markov sticking Zdeno Chara in the privates. The Bruins were by no means “innocent,” but neither were the Habs — and nor should any team be in the playoffs. The obsession over “respect” was baffling to say the least.
But “respect” issues aside, the Canadiens played a gritty series. They committed to blocking shots, they won twice in hostile territory in Boston, and they had a goaltender who never once let the moment consume him. It was an impressive series victory, and for as much outrage and disappointment that there will be in the Bruins’ performance, there should be equal recognition to the Canadiens’ effort.
And you better recognize that effort, unless you want Dale Weise knocking on your door and telling you to respect him. “I am a fourth-liner and you will respect my authori-tay!”
Though the season is over, let’s take one last jaunt through some leftover thoughts. I promise I won’t make it too painful.
–Ah, HandshakeGate. This series just couldn’t end without one more bit of controversy. In terms of a player — in this case, Milan Lucic — telling an opponent (Weise and Alexei Emelin) that he’s going to kill them next year, that’s not a big deal. Lucic plays with emotion, and he perceived those guys as big-time snots. It’s OK for Lucic to be angry after losing a seven-game playoff series in a rivalry as heated as this one. He didn’t threaten to actually kill Weise. He threatened to hit him in a hockey game. It’s OK, people.
Yet in terms of slowing down the handshake line to offer the threats, Lucic could have been better. He didn’t cause a tremendous scene when saying farewell to Weise, but his over-the-top grasp-and-shake of Emelin as well as his lean-in to deliver his message was a bit too much. That’s where you need to respect the tradition of the handshake line. There’s always a losing team in that line, but there’s not usually someone making a scene. So if Lucic is going to get called a sore loser for that part of it, that’s fine.
But overall, it’s yet another minor thing that can’t go by without becoming an international incident. In terms of my sanity, I can’t say I’m sad that this series is over. It’s just a never-ending headache whenever these two teams collide.
–The strangest discovery I had during this series was that P.K. Subban says “listen” every time he starts a sentence. Listen, I don’t know what’s up with that, but listen, you know what? Listen, it’s weird. Listen, here are his answers to questions last night:
“Listen, it comes down to respect.”
“Listen, everything that comes out of my mouth, I try to think in the best interests of my team.”
“Listen, I got nothing but respect for that team.”
“Listen, it’s just trying to congratulate everybody on a series. Listen, it’s an emotional series, you know, and it’s very emotional.”
“You know, listen, as a group, you know, I think that was a group we’ve done a great job.”
–Patrice Bergeron was the best player on the ice in Game 7. He played at 110% of his normal speed, he turned shot blocks into offensive chances, he was all around the puck, and he simply showed why he is such an important player for the Boston Bruins. He finished with six shots on net, three more shot attempts that either missed the net or were blocked, two hits, and two blocked shots, and he won 21 of his 31 faceoffs (after starting 13-for-14 at the dot). His ability to raise his game in the biggest moments of the season is a trait that few other players in the league have, and it showed in this Game 7.
It just went on to further my belief that a team made up of 18 Patrice Bergerons is going to win more often than it loses.
–You can’t blame Tuukka Rask for any of those three goals, but it’s still fair to feel somewhat disappointed in him. For the Bruins to win multiple playoff series, they need their goaltender to play out of his mind. And though it was a do-or-die lunge from right to left for Rask on the Max Pacioretty goal, that’s the type of goal where people here are going to say “Tim Thomas would have had it.” Obviously, there’s no way to know that. Tim Thomas did, in fact, allow goals, too. But what stands out from Thomas’ Conn Smythe run are the sprawling saves, like the pad stop of Brian Gionta in double overtime of Game 5 in 2011, or the diving stick save on Steve Downie — plays where the opponent had every right to expect a goal, yet was robbed. Tuukka had his diving stick save in Game 6, but it was lost to history due to the final score.
So for as much as you can’t blame Tuukka (he finished the playoffs with a .946 even-strength save percentage, best in the NHL), I understand why people would have liked to see more out of him. That just comes with the territory of being a goalie — especially a goalie who signed an eight-year, $56 million contract last summer.
–I said throughout the series that Carey Price played well without being tested all that much. But he was certainly tested in Game 7 — and he passed with flying colors. Price was excellent. He was exactly what the Canadiens needed to be. He stopped 93.6 percent of the shots on net in this series, and it generally took a redirection or some chaos in front of the net to get a puck past him.
Normally I post a series of videos to prove cases like this one, but I’m sure not many Bruins fans are up for that. Instead, just watch this one, which I found to be a rather impressive stop in a crucial moment. Carl Soderberg showed amazing hand-eye coordination to redirect an Iginla point shot on net, but Price kept his right pad stapled to the ice to make a save that prevented the Bruins from tying the game seconds before first intermission.
A goal there, and the Bruins ignite their home crowd and completely alter the mind-set after one period. A big save, and the Habs hold onto their lead. Huge.
Carey Price was simply cold as ice in this series. And what’s scary if you’re a Boston fan is that the netminder is still just 26 years old.
–I guess Matt Bartkowski got his revenge for getting traded to Calgary last year, eh? Bartkowski’s neutral-zone turnover on his second shift of the night wasn’t terrible in and of itself, but paying zero attention to Dale Weise sneaking in the back door and instead floating farther away from the goal mouth to allow Montreal to take a 1-0 lead was just inexcusable. Forget about inexperience and the pressures of Game 7 — that’s just bad hockey.
Bartkowski then took himself out of his element by trying to rush 1-on-3 with 3:05 left in the game. He couldn’t get his shot through, and 12 seconds later, Danny Briere’s pass went off Zdeno Chara’s skate and into the net, and the Bruins’ season was over.
Claude Julien talked after the game about a lack of experience throughout the roster proving costly for the Bruins. But I think he was just trying to avoid placing all the blame on Bartkowski.
–Speaking of Claude, let’s get his thoughts on the officiating in Game 7:
Personally, I thought referees Dan O’Rourke and Dave Jackson were atrocious. Nate Silver pointed out on Wednesday that almost half as many penalties are called, on average, in a Game 7 compared to every other game. Yet O’Rourke and Jackson weren’t letting anything go in this Game 7.
Marchand probably deserved a penalty for not being careful enough when skating toward the net, but Markov deserved a penalty for actually shoving Marchand into Price to send the netminder flying. The refs must have realized this after seeing the replay on the video board. Josh Gorges stuck his knee into Reilly Smith’s thigh to trip the Bruins forward minutes later, which was a perfect time for a make-up call, considering it was blatantly out in the open, but the whistles remained in their pockets. They did not want to call the Max Pacioretty penalty, but he held on to Dougie Hamilton’s stick one second too long, and they had to. Yet David Krejci batted away Lars Eller stick from his midsection and immediately got called for a penalty. I can’t comment on the interference penalty on Eller, because I didn’t see it, but I will safely assume it was a terrible call.
And the penalty on Marchand for snowing Price … come on. He didn’t even get his money’s worth. If you’re going to call that penalty, at least tell Marchand, “OK son, you’re heading to the box, but we’ll let you give you a free shot to really spray some snow on the goalie. Have some fun out there, kiddo.”
Of course, the calls only affected the Bruins in terms of interrupting their rhythm, and it was a blatantly obvious penalty on Johnny Boychuk that led to Montreal’s only power-play goal. Yet the officiating is worth noting considering these two guys — Jackson and O’Rourke — hijacked Game 2 by calling 11 minor penalties, and they puffed out their chests in Game 7 by calling 10. Nobody wants to see that.
–The Bruins spoke a lot about their close chances, the posts they hit, and how they needed just a few ounces more of puck luck on their side. It reminded me a lot of the 2012 playoffs, when Nathan Horton was out due to a concussion and the Bruins said the same things. In 2011, Horton was the guy to score almost every big goal. He scored the 2-OT winner in Game 5 against Montreal, he scored the OT winner against Montreal in Game 7, he scored the only goal in Game 7 against Tampa, and the Bruins went 8-0 in the playoffs when Horton scored a goal. Yet the year after winning the Cup, they were bounced by a team in Washington which was perceived to be inferior.
Last year, it was Horton who scored the third-period goal that sparked the impossible comeback in Game 7 against Toronto. He also scored three playoff game-winning goals last postseason.
I’m not saying the Bruins were wrong to let him go — they wanted him back, he wanted to leave, and he would have been too expensive anyway. I’m saying the Bruins lacked that guy to be the man in the big moments. Iginla certainly tried his best in Game 7, but he could only score the one goal, and at 36 years old, he needed some help. The Bruins’ top target this summer needs to be finding “The Man.”
–David Krejci in two postseasons (’12, ’14) without Nathan Horton on his wing: 19 games, 1 goal, 6 assists.
David Krejci in two postseason (’11, ’13) with Nathan Horton on his wing: 47 games, 21 goals, 28 assists.
Some of those second numbers are skewed, considering Krejci had a goal and an assist in the four games after Horton left the Finals with a concussion, but boy do those numbers stand out.
–Still, this was a professional play by Krejci to set up the Bruins’ only goal of Game 7:
Had Krejci been able to make a better pass for an Iginla one-timer in the third period, it might have been a different story. But Krejci led Iginla a bit too far, causing Jarome to settle the puck with his skate before getting off a shot while down on one knee. By that time, Price had plenty of time to square up and make a glove save. Something with that top line just wasn’t clicking, and it’s simply hard to win a playoff series when you’re best players aren’t playing to their capabilities.
–I do think we’ll be learning of an injury to Zdeno Chara real soon. He just wasn’t himself, and you could see it in his face as much as in his play. Nobody takes the game more seriously than Chara, so a lack of effort or energy just can’t explain his lack of impact in this series. He took a slash to the left hand from Max Pacioretty in the third period, and Chara showed clear pain. Pacioretty later targeted that same hand with another slash, and I wonder if the Canadiens had some intel that the left hand was Chara’s weak spot. Michael Bournival slashed that hand in Game 3, causing Chara to head to the locker room and miss several minutes, which the big man only does if he’s really hurt.
Nevertheless, don’t try to tell Bournival that Chara didn’t have an impact on the series:
–I’d go on, but I think that will do it. If you’re a regular reader of these inane ramblings, I thank you dearly for your time this season. If this is your first time, I hope you’ll come back next fall, where another promising Bruins season awaits.
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