Its no stretch to say this years playoffs was a 180 degree turn backward for Bostons top offensive forwards after last years run to the Stanley Cup.
The only member of the top-six forwards playing close to the top of his game by the time the postseason arrived was Rich Peverley, who missed six weeks with a sprained knee injury. The rest of the Bruins that battled through an entire regular season didnt seem to have enough left in the gas tank after playing nearly 200 games in the last 17 months and over 200 if preseason games were included and that manifested itself in the playoffs.
Milan Lucic finished with zero goals in the seven-game series against the Washington Capitals, and couldnt consistently provide the menacing physicality that helped him lead the Bruins to a win in Game 3. David Krejci led the Bruins with 12 goals during last years run to the Cup, and finished with only a single goal against Washington while struggling mightily to generate offense.
Patrice Bergeron was hobbled by a torn oblique midway through the series against Washington, and Tyler Seguin battled through a left hand injury that will require surgery this summer.
Brad Marchand was another Bs player that couldnt maintain his Nose Face Killah edge for the entire playoff series he did last year while stirring it up against all of Bostons playoff opponents. Bs coach Claude Julien said that some players handled the mental challenge entering this years playoffs better than others, and make your own judgments based on the way some Bruins forwards performed.
Physically I think we were okay. There didnt seem to be any issues physically. I think mentally, some players handled the heavy workload over the last two years better than others over the course of the season and the short summer and everything else. Thats what happens with Stanley Cup teams, said Julien. I dont think it makes a player less valuable or less of a better player than others and everyone handles it differently. We had some guys that came back and were the same player they were the year before. We had some players that really struggled that way.
Marchand didnt disagree with his coach.
We didnt break out the way we can and the way we were hoping to, said Marchand. Thats going to make us more excited to come back next year and do a better job. They did a good job and they battled hard. You could tell they didnt want to give us any odd-man rushes and they were able to stick to that.
His best game happened after Claude Julien had dropped him to the fourth line in practice, and basically called him out for his lack of edge.
The edge and a higher level of effort returned, but he finished with one goal, two points and a minus-1 in seven games. Marchand also revealingly admitted that he had a difficult time getting an emotional edge heading into this years playoffs like the hungry, desperate tone that was set last year.
It played a part in it. We had a long year, a short schedule and another tough season again this year. It made it a challenge to get prepared this year, said Marchand. You dont notice it until after it happens. Youre obviously excited for the playoffs, but the hype of last year didnt really feel the same this year. But at some point you have to find a way to get yourself engaged and prepare for the game.
I learned about how I have to make sure I prepare. There are different ways to get up for games. When youre not as excited or able to get up for games like we were last year during the playoffs, it can be a little tough. You have to be mentally tough enough to be able to mentally prepare yourself. Its a tough job to mentally prepare yourself to play at a high level every night, but what you have to learn to do being a professional.
What Marchand is saying makes a lot of sense.
The Bruins arent the vintage Detroit Red Wings with a high-powered offense capable of dominating puck possession, and theyre not the Pittsburgh Penguins with star-powered special teams units. The Bruins are a blue collar team that needs to bring emotion, physicality, work ethic and maximum effort to the table in order to bring the swaggering intimidation that helped them win the Cup last season.
When they dont bring those qualities the Bruins become very ordinary, and thats exactly the way they looked against the Capitals.
Personally it gets that fire boiling inside again that youre not happy with what happened, and youre not happy with yourself, said Lucic. You want to do whatever you can to get yourself to the top. Sometimes you have to lose in order to win, and weve shown in the past that we had to lose before we were champions.
Maybe that was another case here? The best way to say it is that the last two years almost felt like one long season. It felt like a baseball season almost with almost having played 200 games in the last two years. Obviously you want to play for as long as you can, but this is an opportunity to get some rest and make the most of it.
The question that remains now for the Bruins: how much do the Bruins evaluate based on the belief that the forwards that struggled will bounce back fully, and how much of this years playoffs revealed potential scoring issues within the forward group.
Its no exaggeration to say the flagging performances of the Bs top forwards was the biggest reason the Bruins couldnt advance past the first round of the playoffs.
Its going to take a long, hard look in the mirror to figure out what best to do about it.