BOSTON -- Two days removed from having their attempt to defend their Stanley Cup championship halted in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by the Washington Capitals, the Boston Bruins still were trying to diagnose what happened.
The Bruins made just a few roster alterations after winning it all in 2011 and then took several precautions to guard against the wear and tear from the short offseason and the rigors of playing nearly 200 games in 20 months.
Ultimately, though, they weren't able to sustain a level of energy or production high enough to get beyond the first round of playoffs, let alone become the first team since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Cup champions.
BRUINS VS. CAPITALS
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Joel Ward scored on a rebound 2:57 into overtime to propel the Washington Capitals past the defending champion Boston Bruins in Game 7 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, winning 2-1 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. READ MORE ›
Just because their season ended two months earlier than their previous year, however, the Bruins weren't chalking their season up as a complete failure.
"Having all things considered, I think we had a pretty good year that the guys should be proud of," Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas said on his team's breakup day at TD Garden on Friday. "It was an amazing run that we had that won the Cup, and it entails afterwards a lot of things and a short summer, and we went right into a very long season with adversity throughout that season. Having said that, we stuck together and got it done to come out second in the Eastern Conference. And we were one bounce away from going to the second round and seeing what we could make happen after that. So I think the guys should be proud of the effort that they brought all year. They gave all they had."
Much of the blame for Boston's demise fell on the club's top scorers, who for the most part were held well below the standards of production they set in the regular season, and in previous postseasons. Forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin all struggled to solve the Capitals' defensive game plan.
Inconsistency that hampered many of Boston's best players in regular season carried over into the playoffs. And the Bruins' stay in the postseason didn't last long enough for those performers to turn things around.
"I truly believe that we were trying," Lucic said. "We did everything we possibly could and we did leave it all out there. I don't think there's any regrets there. But maybe looking back, there might not have been that desperation or that killer instinct that we may have had in the past. Even earlier on, you look at our team, how we were in November, December. It seemed like after that Christmas break, we weren't able to get that desperation back in our game and ultimately that hurt us in the end."
Bruins coach Claude Julien thinks that there was a mental toll worse than the physical toll of the repeat attempt. And it affected different players in various ways and to differing degrees.
"I think mentally, some players handled it better than others over the course of the season and the short summer and everything else and that's what happens with teams," Julien said. "I don't 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, saying, 'Wow another 82 games. Playoffs, short summer.' ... It's not an easy task and everyone handles it differently and at the same time there's so much going on, there's reasons for guys being better and a little less than others."
The Bruins returned for their title defense with mostly the same roster except for the additions of defenseman Joe Corvo and forward Benoit Pouliot to make up for the losses of blueliner Tomas Kaberle and forwards Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder. Over the course of the season, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli added depth with trades for defensemen Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau and forward Brian Rolston.
"I truly believe that we were trying. We did everything we possibly could and we did leave it all out there. I don't think there's any regrets there. But maybe looking back, there might not have been that desperation or that killer instinct that we may have had in the past."
-- Bruins' forward Milan Lucic
This summer, Chiarelli will have to re-sign goaltender Tuukka Rask, who can become a restricted free agent July 1. There also are a handful of unrestricted free agents, highlighted by center Chris Kelly. And Thomas, Lucic, Seguin and Marchand all will be entering the last year of their deals in 2012-13. Chiarelli said to not expect a major overhaul of his team's core.
"From the makeover perspective, certainly we're not going to do anything to makeover this team," he said. "You hear me talk about the parity in this League and our first round loss in seven games this year can be another Stanley Cup Final next year -- it's that close. You saw the number of teams in the West … you kind of see the new four teams in the West and you see some different teams in the East so you just have to be prepared. But on the major-change front, I'm not looking at doing anything on that front. But I would like to add some pieces."
Chiarelli mentioned a top-nine forward as a potential free-agent or trade target this summer. He also predicted the Bruins receiving a boost from a young player, such as defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the ninth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.
When the Bruins report for the 2012-13 season, they'll bring with them the disappointment of this season's early flameout, as well.
"Obviously you're not happy about it," Lucic said. "As time's gone on, since Wednesday, it makes you appreciate more and more what happened here as a team last year. And I think also, it makes you, for myself personally, it gets that fire kind of boiling inside that you're not happy with what happened, you're not happy with yourself, and you want to do whatever you can to get yourself to the top. And I think sometimes you need to lose, I guess, before you win. And we've had to learn the hard way in the past about losing before we were champions, and that was another case here where it's a tough loss, it's a big loss, and hopefully that will fire us up and get us going to bring us back to the top."