BOSTON – When it came down to it, the abundance of Game 7 experience for the Boston Bruins didn’t matter a bit against the Montreal Canadiens.
A group of first- and second-year players looked extremely rattled to start things off on Wednesday night, and many of Boston’s experienced players didn’t look much better in a 3-1 loss in Game 7 at TD Garden. It would be too easy to lump it all on the young guys playing in their first real do-or-die playoff experience, but realistically only Patrice Bergeron and Johnny Boychuk could have raised their head proudly about the way they played in an eyesore of a first period.
Otherwise players with nearly 90 games of Game 7 experience going into Wednesday night’s Original Six showdown looked nervous, unsure of themselves, completely out of sync and tremendously afraid to make a mistake.
“We’ve got a lot of experience, but we’ve also got a lot of young guys,” said Brad Marchand. “It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s always a little nerve wracking stepping into a Game 7. With the amount of pressure we had on our team, it can just give you a little bit of jitters. But I think we calmed down, played well, after that. We just couldn’t bear [down].”
It didn’t matter how well they played following the jittery first as the Bruins found itself climbing an uphill battle that never came to an end. Second-year defenseman Matt Bartkowski -- playing in place of the injured Dennis Seidenberg -- lost track of fourth-liner Dale Weise as Weise crashed the backdoor and popped in the game’s first goal. That essentially sealed Boston’s fate, as the team that scored first won all seven games in the series.
Boston started to regain its composure by the end of the first period. Montreal made it 2-0 on a Max Pacioretty one-timer amid some third-line defensive chaos, but the Bruins did show a little backbone with a power-play strike to end the second period.
But that was it for the B's, who received goose-egg performances from Marchand and David Krejci throughout the entire 12-game playoff run and got little in the way of offense from key guys like Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara in the second round. In essence, many of Boston’s best players never got untracked playing against a Canadiens team that’s had their number for the better part of two years.
“We had a great season, and we did a lot of good things” said coach Claude Julien. “When you look at the whole picture, it’s a lot brighter than the ending. At the same time I think the one thing that really hurt us probably moving forward is we had a lot of first-year players in our lineup. You could see tonight that there was a lot of nervousness. Yet at the same time, this time of year you got to play your best hockey . . . I don’t think we got to that point.
“I don’t think we played badly, but we certainly weren’t playing as well as we could to be a team that would move ahead. No doubt it’s a disappointing night for us, but at the same time I think our young guys this year did a great job of stepping in for some serious injuries to certain players, and had a real good season. Maybe it came back to haunt us a little bit, but I’m certainly not disappointed with our team.”
As Julien alluded to, there were other pieces of evidence that showed some of the young players’ nerves. One could count the number of poor games that Kevan Miller played on one hand during his first NHL regular season, but the rugged defenseman had a rough ending to the playoff series against the Canadiens.
He lost track of Tomas Plekanec on the backdoor for Montreal’s first goal in Boston’s Game 3 loss at the Bell Centre, and coughed up a puck to Lars Eller directly in front of the net for the Habs’ first goal in their Game 6 loss.
Those were hard lessons to learn, given the importance of the first goal in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs (across the league, the team that scored first lost only one game in the entire second round). But the Bruins will be a better team for having choked away one big chunk of this Game 7 experience.
“That’s why we lost,” said Lucic, simply and repetitively, after being asked about the first-period debacle. "That’s why we lost. I can’t elaborate more on it; that’s why we lost."
There were, of course, other reasons for the defeat. The Bruins’ top forward line never really showed up, the B’s fourth line was completely dominated by Montreal’s fourth line and Tuukka Rask was outplayed by a stellar Carey Price between the pipes. There’s also the simple fact that the Bruins probably just weren’t really fast enough to keep up with a Canadiens team that always seemed to be one step ahead even before the Game 7 nerves kicked in.
It will be a bitter taste for the Bruins after this President’s Trophy edition fell well short of their goal, but there’s really no other choice for the Black and Gold as they ready for the offseason and diagnose exactly what went wrong.