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Bruins struggles a group failure, GM says

by Matt Kalman / NHL.com

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is more than a little bit disappointed with their performance this season.

“I consider it a failure and it’s a failure on everybody’s part,” Chiarelli said Friday in Tampa on an off day for players and coaches. “But being a failure doesn’t mean there has to be a complete overhaul of everything. Guys fail, teams fail, and they get back on their horse. And so again, I consider it a failure, but you don't always succeed in this business. You don’t always hit the ball out of the park all the time, and you’ve got to get back and do your job, and we’ve shown we can do that. But right now it’s very disappointing.”

Chiarelli’s comments were surprising considering the Bruins have a chance to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth straight season. Boston will play its regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NESN, SN1), and there’s a chance it won’t be the Bruins' last game of the season.

They need the Pittsburgh Penguins to get no more than one point in their final two games, or the Ottawa Senators to lose in regulation to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, to have a chance to make the playoffs. Boston would have to defeat Tampa Bay, which will be playing for a chance to win the Atlantic Division.

As recently as March 10, the Bruins held a seven-point lead on the Senators for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. At the start of this week, Boston was riding a five-game winning streak and controlled its fate. But the Bruins lost 3-0 at the Washington Capitals on Wednesday and 4-1 at the Florida Panthers on Thursday, dropping them behind the Senators in the standings.

“Up until these last two games, we had a stretch where we had some luck and we had a good push and we got some results,” Chiarelli said. “Prior to that, we squandered some opportunities. I look at that a little bit like, we’ve squandered more than we’ve had the luck go our way, which is on us, and usually that evens out. Usually you win some you don’t deserve to and you lose some that you should’ve won. But to me the ledger is on the other side this time.

“We had a pretty good push, and these last two games have been disappointing. Obviously we’re having trouble scoring. Not generating chances, but we’re having trouble scoring. That came back to bite us the other night in Washington. And [Thursday] night we had a real strong start. If we score on all those chances in the first period, it’s a different game. So [I'm] really, really disappointed. We’re still mathematically alive; things can happen. But we’ve put ourselves in this position.”

The Bruins have been in the bottom third of the NHL in goals per game all season. Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand share the team lead with 23 goals; Marchand ended a 15-game goal drought against the Panthers.

Goal production from several other players has dropped. Forward Reilly Smith had 20 goals last season; he has 13 this season. Center Carl Soderberg has 13 goals after scoring 16 last season. Forward Chris Kelly’s seven goals are a career-low for a full season.

“There’s the actual getting the chance, which we’ve had an abundance of. There’s the quality of chance. The quality of chance is judged by the location, right? But then there’s the actual executing the chance, and I think we’ve fallen short in that regard,” Chiarelli said. “And that to me is a number of things. It’s actually executing, wanting to bury it. So that speaks to focus. There’s a will that is involved in trying to put the puck through the back of the net. There’s that killer instinct and we haven’t had it.

"I know we’ve lost a couple players from last year, but we’ve done a preliminary look at our chances and we’re almost at the same number of chances. In or around the same number of, we call them, 5 percent chances. And we’re remarkably short of executing those chances. There’s reasons behind it and there’s ways to fix it and we’ll have to look at that. But that’s been a frustrating part.”

The Bruins are ninth in goals allowed per game at 2.46, and goaltender Tuukka Rask has a 2.31 goals-against average. Chiarelli said chances against are up from past years.

“Our game is predicated on strong defensive play and strong breakout,” Chiarelli said. “One thing has to happen first before the next thing. So there’s been a weak spot in the first part, the strong defensive play, so subsequently the breakout hasn’t been the same. We’ve historically, I think, been one of the best breaking-out teams in the League, and we haven’t had that."

Bruins coach Claude Julien has been taking some heat lately for his lineup decisions and the line combinations he created earlier in the week. Chiarelli said he had no problems with Julien's performance.

“I think he’s done fine,” Chiarelli said. “And I look at him, I look at a couple things. I think he’s mixed and matched with the lines. I think he’s integrated some youth into the forward lines. I think he’s done well in mixing and matching on the defensive pairs. None of us lately have been used to these types of circumstances, myself included. So I think he’s done fine."

Though the Bruins can make the playoffs, Chiarelli said they haven't played up to expectations.

"I don’t want to get into a postmortem discussion yet," he said. "We’ll have a chance. But it’s been disappointing and obviously it’s not acceptable. There’s a level of high standard in our city and market and we haven’t reached it right now.”

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