Now that we've had a weekend to think it over, it's time to say what none of us wanted to admit a month ago:
We saw this coming.
Maybe not in the heart-wrenching fashion that it did; maybe not in the first round, maybe not in overtime of Game Seven, and definitely not against a defensively committed Washington Capitals team. But we knew this was coming. The Bruins weren't fit to
We knew it was coming in the middle of February, when the Bruins hadn't been able to string together consecutive wins in six weeks - and we certainly knew it by the middle of March, when they still hadn't.
That's not to say the the Bruins were a streaky team - save for that ten-game win streak in November and seven-game streak in December, Boston's longest streaks were a four-game winning streak from November 26th through December 5th and a four-game losing streak from March 10th-15th.
They were simply, as Dennis Seidenberg pointed out following last week's heartbreaking Game Seven defeat, mentally exhausted. That's why they couldn't string together consecutive wins for ten weeks, it's definitely why they were 3-7 in their first ten games and it doesn't describe at all their ridiculous November and December.
But then again, neither does anything else, really.
Look, the Bruins were what they were during the season. They were a two-way team that wasn't nearly as offensively talented as they were timely, but were consistently strong in their own zone, despite their ever-present troubles to exit it.
(And let's put the talk of a puck-moving defenseman being the difference offensively to rest - the fact is that the Bruins as currently constituted don't need one. Tomas Kaberle didn't make a difference; Joe Corvo didn't make a difference. Claude Julien would rather have six defensemen who are responsible to their checks and don't take risks than the alternative. And for what it's worth, Corvo finished the season a plus-10, good for 11th on the team)
They had a surplus of talent in net that, when it wasn't busy mouthing off on Facebook, was capable of shutting down even the most high-profile offensive attack. And they weren't deep.
For many of us, our definition of team depth was challenged this season - the Bruins could roll four lines at any time (which they did, sometimes too much) and any of them could score. They got contributions from their defense on both ends, but they were at their best when everyone did their job - as attested by their 38-0-0 record in the regular season when they led by two goals or more.
They didn't lead by two once in the playoffs.
In November and December, with everyone healthy and producing, the Bruins passed the eye test. But following the New Years' Eve loss at Dallas, they didn't. Some combination of unfavorable scheduling and injuries and fatigue probably affected their performances in the first three months of 2012, but the mental exhaustion that Seidenberg referred to was the underlying theme.
And when Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid's concussions, Tyler Seguin's injured finger, Patrice Bergeron's oblique injury, Bergeron and Zdeno Chara's broken noses, David Krejci's sore neck and Milan Lucic's kidnapping following the season-ending win over the Sabres added up, organizational depth was something that it turned out Boston was struggling with.
(That's not a point of concern - Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner and Anton Khudobin and Dougie Hamilton are all huge pieces of the future, but excepting Khudobin, none of them were available for Boston late in the year)
The life of a Stanley Cup champion isn't an easy one - we all know that Detroit was the last team to repeat as champions in 1998-99, but only three defending champions have returned to the Finals since 2000 - Dallas in 2000, New Jersey in 2001 and Detroit in 2009.
Further, only three teams to come out of the Eastern Conference have returned to the Conference Finals since the end of the Prince of Wales Conference (New Jersey in 1995, 2001 and Pittsburgh in 2009) and six teams to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals have returned to their conference final in the following year (Detroit in 1996, Colorado in 1997, Detroit again in 1998, Dallas in 2000, Colorado in 2002, and Detroit in 2009). That's barely over 13 percent of Finalists that have played for their Conference title the next year - and, when you add in the fact that all four of last year's conference finalists are already ineligible for the conference finals, it goes down to 12.5 percent.
It's a combination of physical exhaustion - the shortest offseason in team sports is just over ten weeks long, and those ten weeks are peppered with countless celebrations and a ever-flowing champagne - and mental exhaustion - those ten weeks are also filled with public appearances, days with the Cup and requests for interviews - that often have doomed defending Stanley Cup Champions in the following season.
Fortunately for the Bruins, nobody really has many interview requests for a team that bowed out in the conference quarterfinals.