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Bruins humbled as postseason streak comes to end

by Matt Kalman /

BOSTON -- Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was blunt when asked to assess the season that concluded Saturday because the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins each won their games and eliminated the Bruins from contention for a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tuukka Rask
Goalie - BOS
RECORD: 34-21-13
GAA: 2.30 | SVP: .922
"Well, what's failed, F? Because you know, if you don't make the playoffs, you've failed," Rask said at TD Garden on Monday. "You know, it doesn't matter what happened, if you don't make the playoffs you've failed. I mean, if we were to make the playoffs, who knows what could have happened. So the line there is very thin, and we really felt like we had a group of guys to make a good run in the playoffs. But we failed because we didn't make the playoffs and we'll never find out."

The Bruins, who held their breakup day Monday, had good reason to believe they might've had a run in them. Most of the core of the team was part of a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, an Eastern Conference title in 2013 and a Presidents' Trophy win 12 months ago. Boston reached the playoffs seven straight seasons before this one.

The Bruins, though, were inconsistent in 2014-15. They had four five-game winning streaks. They also had two stretches of six games without a win. When it mattered most, the Bruins came up short in the last week of the season. Despite squandering most of a seven-point lead they held on Ottawa on March 10, the Bruins still controlled their own destiny with three games to play. But Boston, which had won five in a row, lost on the road to the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers and relinquished that control to the Senators and Penguins.

Looking at the big picture, and not just the late-season swoon, many Bruins players blamed complacency that grew out of their recent run of success.

"I think because we've had so much success over the last couple of years maybe we took things for granted too much and I guess got a little too cocky at some points in this season," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "And ended it ended up catching up to us."

"Hockey's a humbling game for everyone and just when you think you're at the top, it'll knock you down and keep you grounded again," forward Brad Marchand said. "I think that's what happened to this team. We might've thought we were better than we actually are and maybe [thought we were] a little too skilled and we didn't play to the system the right way, and ultimately that's what has allowed us to win the past. So maybe we've got to make sure we get back to that next year and it'll work for us again."

The lack of consistency cost the Bruins at both ends of the ice. Their offense ranked in the bottom third of the NHL most of the season and their leading scorer, Patrice Bergeron, had 55 points. At the defensive end, led by Rask, the Bruins were in the top third of the League most of the season. But general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted the scoring chances against were up a tick from past seasons.

If the system didn't fail, the players certainly did.

"Well, you know I think there's a lot of players that did it well. There's other players that didn't do it as well as others and created those situations," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "And when those things happen it becomes a confidence issue, right? Do you trust each other out there on doing the right thing? And then I guess the challenge for a coach nowadays is getting the whole team to really play the same way and trust in each other that the right thing is going to be done. And I think there was times, for different reasons, that wasn't happening."

Familiarity had bred chemistry and loyalty, with 10 of the Bruins regulars having played on the 2011 Cup championship team and in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Now it's unlikely the Bruins will be able to retain so many players from that glorious era. Not only did the Bruins backslide with their current core, they are tight up against the NHL salary-cap ceiling and will have to make difficult decisions about personnel.

Already Chiarelli told center Gregory Campbell and left wing Daniel Paille, who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer, they will not be re-signed. Defensemen Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski and forward Carl Soderberg are also scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton will be a restricted free agent due a healthy raise and Lucic is entering the final year of a multiyear contract. Lucic is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in summer 2016.

Milan Lucic
Left Wing - BOS
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 44
SOG: 141 | +/-: 13
"When you don't make the playoffs, changes usually are made," Lucic said. "As a player, those are the things that are out of your control, and you just hope that a group can stay together as long as it can. But I mean, you trust that the GM and the whole management group are going to do the best they can to put the best team on the ice. As a player, that's all you can really do, is just trust in the management group that they're going to do the best that they can to put the best team on the ice moving forward."

Chiarelli and Julien each acknowledged uncertainty about whether they'll be around to make decisions about next season.

"The job uncertainty, the questions surrounding us, it's part of the job and you have to deal with it and just move forward," Chiarelli said. "But it hasn't impacted my interviews, my discussions, my meetings with Claude. Business as usual."

The Bruins 96 points in the standings were a record for a team that didn't qualify for the postseason. Although that doesn't make up for the early demise of their season, the Bruins can take some solace that they came close to reaching the playoffs. As much as they've tasted success the past seven seasons, they also dealt with defeats in early round and late rounds. The Bruins lost five Game 7s in those seven years. They know how to grow from failure.

"We still had 96 points this year. I know we've had ups and downs this whole year and it wasn't great, but in any given year that should get you into the playoffs," Marchand said. "This is the only year it hasn't. I think it's a great squad in here; guys are still going to come back next year. I think that's one of the biggest things that are going to drive guys this year, is that we did let everyone down this year and it's going to drive us through the summer to come back and be better next year. And I think you're going to see a lot of guys come in ready to play and have something to prove, and those are the kind of guys you want on your team."

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