No, the Bruins didn't choke. I really hesitate to throw around the c-word.
The Bruins collapsed.
The narrative is all too familiar for fans of the Black and Gold: Claude Julien's team falters during the stretch run to ensure an April full of showers for the fans. Hot takes abound, leading the finger being pointed at management, the players, and the coaching staff.
Last season, the Bruins couldn't hold off a flaming-hot Ottawa Senators team that rode goaltender Andrew Hammond all the way from a mid-lottery pick to the second wild card spot. A medley of losses piled up and eventually doomed the Bruins and cost former General Manger Peter Chiarelli his job. This season, the Bruins tumbled from a late (and unexpected) Atlantic division lead to April tee times.
The Bruins weren't supposed to contend this season. Sure, the roster contained a collection of talented individuals, but holes defensively and question marks up front plagued a team that had boom or bust potential.
As the season unfolded, Claude Julien flexed his muscles and the team racked up wins, putting the Bruins in a position to contend for a playoff. At one point past the halfway point of the season, the team that called the TD Garden sat unchallenged atop the Atlantic Division.
Then, lightning struck for the second straight year.
3-8-1 in the last 12 contests is absolutely unacceptable, especially when the team is fighting for their playoff life. Against Carolina and Ottawa, two home losses in the last three games, the Bruins were out hustled to 50-50 pucks. How can a group desperately needing points be outworked by a team looking with an eye towards next fall, with a roster filled of youngsters essentially on an extended tryout? Where is the pride? The desperation?
The worst part was, when the Bruins offered a glimmer of hope, they would exhibit a listless effort in the next contest. Take, for example, the last five games of the season:
-The offense roared back to life in St. Louis, as the Bruins topped the Blues in a 6-5 frenzy. Two days later, the B's floundered into a 6-0 deficit in Chicago.
-The Bruins rallied only to lose 6-4, notching four unanswered goals against a quality Blackhawks team. Grit and heart were displayed in the curtailed comeback, which the team suspected would carry over into the mini three game home streak to end the season.
-The Bruins lost to the Hurricanes 2-1 in a shootout, and as the team languidly strutted to the locker room, one could not help but scratch his/her head and wonder if this was the game that doomed them.
-Boston scores two goals in the opening minutes against the Red Wings, their competitor for the three seed in the Atlantic division, and end up pounding Detroit 5-1. The B's are back baby!!!
BOOK THE FLIGHT TO TAMPA BAY, THE BOYS ARE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!!!
-Nope. How could one be so naive? Once somebody believes in the Bruins, his/her heart is unmercifully ripped out. A 6-1 loss to the Senators embarrassed the franchise and officially knocked Boston out of the postseason tournament.
No Tuukka Rask. No spark in the home team's stride. No desperation. No playoffs.
Now, the finger pointing has commenced, and no party is safe. Management failed to shore up a permeable defensive unit, the coaching staff refused to let the kids play, and the players resorted to sloppy errors and fell victim to poor play at the worst possible time. So, who takes the blame? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure though: in a city engrained with hockey and a tradition like Boston, mediocre results will result in the rolling of heads.
As another long offseason commences, the Bruins are a franchise in disarray. Attempting to rebuild on the fly, the Bruins don't have enough talent (or cap space) to seriously challenge for Lord Stanley's Cup, yet are too talented to qualify for a high chance of a top pick in the draft. The cupboard is stock full of prospects, but also high priced contracts. Do the Bruins try and acquire top notch talent and take a swipe at a long playoff run, or start at square one and trek down the long, windy road known as a rebuild.
One option needs to be inaugurated, or the Bruins will be mired in mediocrity and disappointment for the foreseeable future. And who wants to be the Canucks?