“[With] 10 games left, I felt that we were going to be in,” Krejci said in mid-April, after the book had closed on the 2014-15 season. “I felt pretty strongly about it. It didn’t really matter if we made it [via] second wild card or third in our division; I felt like if we [got] in, we could be a really dangerous team for anyone, and we can go all the way again.”
But that, of course didn’t happen. On the final day of the regular season, the Bruins were knocked out of postseason contention, and for the first time in eight years, they realized they would be watching the playoffs rather than participating in them.
It was a tough pill for Krejci to swallow — not only the ending, but the course of his 2014-15 season in general.
“Every time I felt like my game was coming around, I got hurt,” he said. “That happened three times this year. It was really frustrating, but I started feeling pretty good at the end of the season, and I wasn’t able to help the team get into the playoffs.
“So it’s a disappointing year for myself, and for the team. We have a long summer.”
For Krejci, the trouble began in early October, in the first period of Boston’s final preseason game. He left the game with an undisclosed injury and would not return, then would miss Boston’s first three regular-season games. Then, after playing in a string of nine straight games, he would miss 17 of the next 19 with the same injury.
Twice during the span of those 19 games, Krejci attempted a comeback, and twice, he was forced to take a seat once again.
Krejci entered this season as a player unaccustomed to dealing with long-term injuries. Throughout the first seven-plus seasons of his Bruins career, he established himself as remarkably durable. This season, then, was an adjustment for him. A big one.
“This is definitely something new,” Krejci said back in December, as he was attempting a return from the undisclosed injury. He acknowledged that there was frustration. He acknowledged that, given repeated setbacks, there was a significant mental aspect of his recovery as well.
Eventually, he did return — on December 17, against Minnesota, after more than two months of dealing with the nagging injury. Over the course of the following 27 games, he finally seemed to have put the uncertainty and the frustration behind him.
And then, just as he was starting to find his stride again, the injury bug struck again.
During a game at St. Louis on February 20 — at the tail end of what had proven to be an exceedingly difficult five-game road trip — Krejci threw a hard open-ice hit in the opening minutes of the second period and was left with a partially-torn MCL in his left knee. His projected timeline for a full recovery was 4-6 weeks, and he would miss the next 14 games.
He would miss the stretch run, the playoff push, the most critical month of the season.
“It is frustrating, but I’m trying to focus on positive things,” Krejci said in late February. “You’re always around the guys in the dressing room, and you don’t want to be the messenger of negativity. You just want to be out there and be with the guys, and obviously you can’t help them on the ice, but just be around them and spend some time with them in the mornings, at practice before and after, so that’s all I can do.”
So Krejci did that. He tried to keep it positive. He was forced to watch as the Bruins fought to keep themselves in playoff position — which they did, for the most part, clinging to the final spot in the Eastern Conference. But there were offensive struggles, and as one of the most offensively-skilled players on Boston’s roster, his absence loomed large.
“It was definitely tough when Krech went down,” said forward Brad Marchand. “Our best player wasn’t in the lineup, that definitely takes a lot out of you. It breaks up that first line, especially when other guys went down. It was an up-and-down year with that; we’ve had more injuries this year than I think we might have ever had.”
Even after Krejci returned to the lineup for the final nine games of the regular season, the Bruins had trouble scoring. It was a refrain that haunted them throughout the entirety of the 2014-15 season: They could put pucks on net, they could generate chances, but they couldn’t bury them. Consistency was elusive for them — before Krejci’s injuries, and even after.
And in the end, after the Bruins finished the season on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, there was only one word Krejci could use to describe the season.
“It’s disappointing,” he said at year-end media availability. “We all know what we’ve got here. Obviously, we didn’t deliver this season, and that’s why we’re talking here on April 13. It’s obviously not a good feeling, but it is what it is.”
Even after the season had come to a close, Krejci was hesitant to share any specifics regarding his injuries. He did not reveal the nature of the undisclosed injury he sustained in the preseason, saying only that it was a lower-body injury. He acknowledged that there was a “little chance” he might need surgery, but that it wasn’t a significant possibility.
Krejci wasn’t the only player who had his season derailed by injury. He was part of a long list of many that also included Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Kevan Miller and more. Every time it seemed the Bruins were heading in the right direction, they lost someone else to injured reserve.
The Bruins have always prided themselves on being a group that refuses to make excuses, but in the end, the injuries caught up with them. It was undeniable. Consistency is hard to find, and it’s even harder to find when top players are constantly in and out of the lineup.
“The expectations are really high — from fans, from media, from our organization — but we knew it,” Krejci said. “We knew that we had a really good team, [but] we can maybe talk a little bit about the injuries. We lost me for lots of games; Zee; Millsy missed a lot of games… I’m not making any excuses, but who knows what would happen if we were playing healthy the whole year?”
From the beginning, Krejci never wanted his injuries to define his season, and when it was over, he refused to make them the focus. Instead — just as he did in February, when he tore his MCL — he chose to focus on the positive.
And the positive, he said, is that there is still a group of players in Boston’s dressing room who are capable of success.
“I felt like if we could make the playoff — and we all believed with a few games left that we would — that we could make a really good push and make some [noise],” he said. “There’s no teams in the NHL who would want to play us in the playoffs, and we knew it. So it was just about getting in, and once we’re in, we would turn the page and start from zero. But it didn’t happen.”
Instead, after taking a full summer to rest, recover and rejuvenate, the Bruins will have to focus on turning the page in September.