Haggerty: Bruins just ran out of gas

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Haggerty: Bruins just ran out of gas

BOSTON -- The Bruins put on a competitive face and said they were as hungry as theyve ever been entering the postseason.

They talked of repeating as Stanley Cup champs and making the kind of NHL history that hadnt been seen since some pretty great Detroit Red Wings made their mark on the NHL in the late 1990s. But action is a little more difficult than words when it comes to repeating as Stanley Cup champs, and the Bruins found that out swiftly and consistently in dropping a seven-game series to the Washington Capitals.

Theres a reason that hockey dynasties have gone the way of the Dodo bird and the dinosaurs, and the Bruins found that out firsthand.

The final straw was a 2-1 overtime loss to the Caps at TD Garden on a Joel Ward game-winning goal that arrived after a Benoit Pouliot dump attempt was intercepted at the blue line. The Capitals caught the Bruins in a line change when the puck was reversed back into the Bruins end of the ice, and that was that.

The elimination defeat served as the last stinging reminder to the Black and Gold that heavy is the crown on the head of the Stanley Cup champs.

The 107 games played last season between the regular season and the playoffs, the short two-month offseason that followed their June 15 Cup victory in Vancouver in Game 7 of the Finals and a grueling regular season where every team threw their hardest roundhouse punches at the Bruins finally ended up taking its toll.

Theres a reason the Bruins became the seventh Stanley Cup champ in the last nine seasons to fail to get out of the first round the year following their capture of the Cup. Theres also a good reason why each of the four teams from last years conference finals are no longer alive and kicking in the postseason. One didnt qualify for the playoffs (Tampa Bay) and the other three were shocking first round casualties.

For a team like the Bruins that endured three seven game-series last year en route to the Cup, there was simply little left in the energy reserves when it came to playoff time.Once digging down deep was required the Bruins found themselves without a shovel for the first time in a long time.

It was a tough season. There were difficult periods at times. I looked around the locker room at many different points during this season and saw some very tired guys, said Tim Thomas, who showed the fatigue as much as anybody else with middling save percentage numbers during the regular season and playoffs. Thats no excuse, thats just reality.

They still found a way to finish second in the conference, get ourselves home ice for the playoffs here, and give ourselves at least an opportunity to get to game seven OT and take it to that next step.

For all intents and purposes the Bruins appeared to be destined to repeat in November and December when they were the NHLs best team and rebounded strongly from a 3-7 start to the season.

They never again attained that high level of play during the remainder of the regular season, and Claude Julien saw a hockey club that didnt have the same kind of oomph once the playoffs commenced this time around.

Were not going to stand here and nitpick at our team. But when I look at this hockey club, what it went through last year, and you look at teams that have been through that situation and how theyve struggled throughout the year, we still finished at the top of our division, we still finished second in the conference, and we had to really grind it out, said Claude Julien. It was a challenging year for our guys, and it was a challenging series as well. Washington made it tough on us, and they deserve a lot of credit for the way they played: the number of shots they blocked and how they helped their goaltender throughout.

A young goaltender played extremely well, so lets not forget to give the Capitals a lot of credit for how they handled us. And at the end of the day, when you look at it the team wasnt playing its best hockey in the series. Before this day started, you just hope that you can get through this Game Seven and hope to pick some momentum up as you move forward in the playoffs. But you had to get through this game, and we werent able to do that.

The energy reserve and unbridled enthusiasm required to pick up momentum in the playoffs just couldnt be consistently maintained by the Bruins. They showed admirable fight in spurts. The champions pride rose up during Game 3 in Washington DC when Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand stirred the emotional pot to a needed road win, and the Bruins appeared to find the necessary level for ultimate success.

But they couldnt maintain that level even in the next game in Washington DC, and they couldnt find anything close to it for 60 minute efforts throughout the series.

Lucic went seven games without a goal in his second straight no-show in the first round of the playoffs, Marchand didnt have his infectious energy on a consistent basis and David Krejci finished off a forgettable playoff performance by losing 10-of-15 face-offs while trying to step up for the injured Patrice Bergeron.

Zdeno Chara wasnt his dominant self at either end of the ice and suffered some uncharacteristic mental breakdowns throughout the series, and the bottom two Bs forward lines were outplayed by their Capitals counterparts when it mattered most in Game 7. While the Capitals were throwing themselves in front of heat-seeking missile pucks and the bottom lines were playing with fire in their hearts, the Bruins couldnt fight their way to the front of the net for loose pucks that were there throughout the seven-game set with Braden Holtby.

The whole year has been a mental challenge for our guys. Physically, I dont think its that big of an issue because guys are in great shape, but the mental part of it is just a challenge. It just seems like, even getting into these playoffs, it seemed like it was just yesterday wed gone through it. So things happen fast, said Julien. The summer was short, guys came back, and now youre asking them to re-focus for a whole season, and thats not an easy task to do.

We had a slow start, and we finally picked it up again, and midway through the season, February, we started having our struggles again. We tried to pick it up at the end of the year, which we did a little bit. But I dont think our team was in tune as well as it was at this time last year.

Instead the Bruins didnt pack the same kind of emotional punch and their core players looked like lesser versions of themselves aside from Tyler Seguin, Dennis Seidenberg and Rich Peverley. The Bruins never consistently showed the same hunger as a Washington Capitals team that sits on the precipice of being dismantled if they dont have a strong showing during the playoffs. The disparity in desperation and frenzied playoff-level focus was readily apparent throughout the series, and the uphill battle for most Bruins players was obvious.

Nobody wants to say there was relief the season was over for a Bruins team that has set high expectations for itself year in and year out.

But there also wasnt the kind of emotional pain and tangible crestfallen mood thats consistent in a dressing room when realization sets in that a season is over.

Instead Milan Lucic was left in the Bs dressing room at the end of the postgame availability reliving the grueling gauntlet as reigning Cup champs. The Bs power forward vowed to be bigger, better and badder next season after a longer offseason to recharge the batteries, and he needs to be after a bad playoff performance.

It was real tough. I dont want to make excuses, but it was real tough to get yourself mentally prepared to start that season, to get ready for the grind of the season and even the playoffs. Especially ending the way that we did with 22 games in the last 40 days of the season, you know, youre definitely feeling it after that, admitted Lucic. But like I said, you dont want to make excuses. But now with this time off we wont have any excuses for next year. Weve got to do whatever we can to get our rest and come in healthy and ready to play next season.

There will also be that helpful sting of their hockey season being done in April for the first time in five seasons. That will give the Bruins the attitude and energy needed to take down formidable foes in the playoffs.

Because the action-packed focus was missing against a Washington Capitals team that was clearly beatable.

Ultimately the better team prevailed when the Bruins couldnt rekindle the kind of fire it required to take it to the glorious next level last season, and fulfilled an NHL prophecy thats become dogma over the last decade.

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. 

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.