There is always a general sense of excitement around the Boston Bruins when it comes to playoff-time in April and May, but there’s also a slight hint of tempered expectations for the Black and Gold this spring.
After slugging it out to a fourth-place finish among Eastern Conference teams during a shortened 48-game regular season and limping to the finish line with a 2-7-2 record in their final nine games, the Bruins didn’t exactly finish up strongly.
“We come off a decent finish in the standings, but I don’t think anybody was ever satisfied with our game, myself included and the players included,” said Peter Chiarelli. “It was a hard season to assess and evaluate properly, and to the extent that I could, I did it very cautiously. We saw some players emerging and we saw some players drop off a bit, and it became magnified in a shortened season. Now we’re at the playoffs. If I’m judging my team based on the last half of the year, then we’re going to really need to step up to have success in the playoffs.”
Just two years removed from a Stanley Cup championship armed with a roster full of big, strong talented players that have proven they’re among the best in the world, it’s clear those around the hockey club are expecting them to start playing like it.
Chiarelli was asked specifically about a decline in Zdeno Chara’s play over the latter half of this season at a Monday afternoon conference call, but Chiarelli went deeper than touching on only the tired 36-year-old defenseman. The B’s GM scanned up and down the roster and put out a call for every one of his players to raise their game after more than a few produced disappointing, or inconsistent, regular-season campaigns.
“You could probably say the same, as far as not reaching our [highest] performance level for everybody,” said Chiarelli. “ 'Z' is a very valuable player, and one of the best defensemen in the league. Obviously you want him firing on all cylinders, but -- like the rest of them -- he’s got to get his game back.
“We haven’t really been firing on all cylinders. I’ve liked the physicality in the last three games, I’ve liked the effort and that’s been consistent. I’ve liked that we’re generating chances. We’re not finishing those chances, but at least we’re generating them. The level of activity and intensity has picked up, and I’d liked that to continue. Eventually we’ll find our game, our execution and our skill level if all of the other [positive] stuff is in place.”
You can easily tick off the players that have underperformed in this challenging season: Rich Peverley, Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly, Andrew Ference and Chara are just a few. As a team, the Bruins averaged 2.6 goals per game. Finishing off offensive plays became an issue that dogged the team pretty consistently all year.
Most of the individuals that posted varying degrees of down seasons are also the seasoned, veteran hockey players that helped author the Cup win two years ago. They still have the pride, character and ability to elevate their play in the postseason, and they should be able to handle facing off against a Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.
There are plenty of veteran hockey teams that have ambled through entire regular seasons only to catch their groove once the playoffs begin, and Chiarelli feels his Bruins team has that capability.
“I would hope there’s an element to their character, with the experience that they have, that they’re going to step up their play,” said Chiarelli. “I see that coming a little bit in the last three games. I’ve seen snippets of [their top level] here, mainly from the emotional and physical viewpoint.
"But you can’t turn it on and off like a switch. You can’t just expect to have success after not performing at a certain level. We’ll certainly see.”
And if they don’t find some higher ground in the playoffs, then changes might in the offing for a Bruins organization that needs to make some difficult decisions on a current group of players that have done some great things for them in the past.