Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli wasn't mincing words Monday while assessing his team's chances in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Bruins don't improve their all-round game from what it produced in the second half of the regular season.
"Well, I'm not going to offer any excuses. We didn't perform to the level we were capable of performing on a number of different fronts," Chiarelli said during a conference call on his team's day off from the ice. "It was good that we had a strong start. We were able to finish where we finished. We obviously ... if I'm going to judge our team on the latter half of the year, I'm going to have to say that we're really going to have to step up our performance to have success in the playoffs."
The Bruins enter the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and they will host the fifth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals Wednesday at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC). Boston controlled its own destiny in terms of the Northeast Division title and the second seed for most of the season's last couple weeks, and the Bruins failed to win their third straight division title.
In their last nine games, the Bruins won twice and scored more than two goals once (the third goal was an empty-netter). If you go back as far as March 12, when the Bruins went into a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 17-3-3 record, the Bruins went 11-11-3 through the rest of the schedule.
Most of Chiarelli's concerns are at the offensive end, where the Bruins finished the season 13th in goals per game at 2.65. Against the Maple Leafs in the regular season, the Bruins went 3-1-0 but scored nine goals.
Chiarelli, though, saw some promising signs in his team's play the last three games before the regular season ended. After their most lifeless loss of the season, 5-2, at the Philadelphia Flyers on April 23, the Bruins went 1-1-1.
"I've liked the physicality in these last three games. I've liked the effort, it's been consistent," Chiarelli said. "We are starting to generate more chances. We're not finishing those chances and we have to improve on that, but we're generating more chances. So the level of activity and intensity has picked up. That I like. And as a message, I would want that to continue. Eventually we'll find our game, our execution, our skill level. We will find it if this other stuff is in place."
Forward Milan Lucic finished a disappointing season with one goal (his seventh) and two assists in the Bruins' last two games. Tyler Seguin (one goal in his last seven games) and Brad Marchand (two goals his last seven) still have more to give. Before sitting out the last two games with flu symptoms, late-season pickup Jaromir Jagr produced nine points (two goals) in 11 games. Chiarelli said he would expect a playoff return for Nathan Horton, who scored 13 goals in 43 games this season before sitting out the last five games with an upper-body injury.
Regardless of personnel, there's a price to pay for offense. And Chiarelli said a little more determination will go a long way toward improving the Bruins' underachieving output and 26th-ranked power play.
"You're not going to win a heck of a lot of games scoring two goals a game," Chiarelli said. "And the finishing off, you've heard me say this before a number of times, you've got to get to those areas, those traffic areas, you've got to get those dirty goals and you've got to hit the net. So we haven't been doing that with the frequency that I would like. So that's the kind of stuff that I'm talking about. That's the kind of stuff that you have to do ... remember when we won [the Stanley Cup in 2011], a lot of those games, they weren't pretty. It's just about grinding and getting to those areas. So we have to recognize that and we have to do it."
There are a lot of factors that make the Bruins the favorite in this series. They are the higher-seeded team and have beaten the Maple Leafs nine out of 10 times over the past two seasons. Toronto hasn't won a game at Boston since a 4-3 shootout victory on March 31, 2011. Boston is in the postseason for a sixth straight year and it won the Cup two years ago; Toronto is making its first postseason appearance since 2004.
Chiarelli said he doesn't disagree with his team's favored status, he just doesn't want anyone to think the past will have much of an impact over the course of a potential seven-game series.
"Everyone automatically favors us. But they're a different team this year," Chiarelli said. "They've added to their size. They've got a couple bangers [Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarson] on the back end. [Nazem] Kadri has really come into his own. Phil [Kessel]'s had another good year. [Joffrey] Lupul's had a good year when he's healthy. So these guys, they're a different team. I think it's going to be a real emotional and physical series, and we've got to play them heavy like we can."
The Bruins will have to play heavy and much better than they played the last 25 games.