Do the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings uncork the bubbly after every defending Stanley Cup champion is eliminated from the postseason?
If the last NHL team to repeat as Cup champs had a ritual like the one the 1972 Miami Dolphins perform every time the last NFL team in a given season falls from the ranks of the unbeaten, those old-time Wings had to be a little worried they'd never get to taste the champagne as the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs commenced.
Deeper on defense than when they won last season, seemingly deeper up front with the emergence of Tyler Seguin as a star and still riding the all-world goaltending of Tim Thomas, the Bruins seemed like one of the surer bets among recent defending champions to at least drive deep into the playoffs.
And then with one backhand shovel into the back of the Boston net, Joel Ward ended the Bruins' title defense before the calendar even turned to May. Here are the five biggest reasons the Bruins couldn't get out of the first round and couldn't defend their Cup championship:
1. Top six was see-through
Rich Peverley was forced into the Bruins' top six because of Nathan Horton's injury absence, and had three goals in the seven-game series against Washington. Of Boston's other 12 goals, four came from "top-six forwards." And Seguin (two goals), David Krejci and Brad Marchand (one apiece), didn't find the back of the net until Game 5. That was too long for the Bruins to wait for production from their best players. And in Game 7, Seguin scored at the end of probably the only shift he, Krejci and Milan Lucic really played like a first line.
BRUINS VS. CAPITALS
Capitals stun Bruins in OT to win Game 7
Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer
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 ›
Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted before the series that his team was lacking in top-end offensive skill and would have to grind out enough offense. Unfortunately, all that happened against the Capitals was his players proved him right about the lack of talent.
"I think that's part of the issue for sure," Julien said about his team's best players not playing up to expectations. "I think we had some ... our best players, we probably needed more out of some of those guys, and, you know, we didn't get it. ... Our team wasn't at its best, and that kind of sums it up. You need to have everybody playing well and we didn't have that in this series here."
2. Fourth wasn't a force
The majority of the blame for the Bruins' seven-game loss falls on the team's biggest names, especially up front. But a team that rolls four lines consistently needs all its trios winning battles and creating momentum for the team. Over seven games, the Capitals' different mixes of bottom-six forwards outplayed the Bruins' fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, and then Jordan Caron when he replaced Thornton. Boston relied on the fourth line to provide a spark at the darkest moments in 2011, and those game-turning moments never game from the Bruins' energy players.
3. Thomas not terrific enough
This reason is the least fair of any. Tim Thomas posted a .923 save percentage in the series. He made a highlight-reel stop on Marcus Johansson with the season on the line in Game 6. But he wasn't the 2011 version of Tim Thomas. The tying and go-ahead goals he allowed in Game 5 at home were pivotal, as the Bruins then had to play Game 6 like it was Game 7 and they obviously weren't able to recover. Sometimes a team needs to ride its goaltender until the rest of its players can get going. The Capitals rode Braden Holtby, but the Bruins proved too heavy for Thomas' shoulders.
4. Bergeron banged up
We'll likely learn Friday what was ailing Patrice Bergeron, who took just two faceoffs over the course of Games 6 and 7. Obviously it was some sort of upper-body injury, which he admitted didn't get much better during the two days he spent off the ice between Games 6 and 7. He still inspired his teammates by gritting out more than 19 minutes of ice time in each game, adding to his resume as one of the Bruins' greatest players and people of the last 20 years.
However, Peverley and Krejci only were able to handle those right-side faceoffs for one game. And Bergeron also was less of his aggressive two-way self at both ends of the rink, not hitting as he normally would and unable to pull much of an offensive trigger. The puck may have been bouncing when it deflected off Holtby to Bergeron to the left of the slot half a minute into overtime in Game 7, but one can't help but wonder what a healthy Bergeron would have done in that situation. Maybe Boston still would be playing.
5. They don’t have the power
In 2011, the Bruins defeated Montreal in a first-round seven-game series despite going 0-for-21 on the power play. This year, the Bruins actually scored a couple goals with the man-advantage; however, their 2-for-23 on the power play did little to change the tide of the series. Among the disappointments were several scoreless power plays that didn't even create momentum, the most glaring of which was a four-minute opportunity in Game 6 and then a two-minute chance late in regulation in Game 7.
Most of this can be blamed on Boston's best forwards not performing regardless of the man-power situation. The Bruins are going to have to change their approach to the power play in order to finish better than in the middle of the pack in the regular season and make sure that next postseason they're not again trying to get by without that weapon in their arsenal.
"We finished in the middle of the pack in the League this year, and, you know, somehow it doesn't seem good enough, and it shouldn't be good enough," Julien said. "You always strive to make your power play better, but, you know, we've got to start winning some battles on the power play. We've got to work our teams. There's times where your skilled players have to make the skilled play. They also have to work to get that puck, and at the same time they've got to get some shots through. There's a lot of things that have to be worked out."