So Boston’s out, that much we know.
After six grueling postseason games, it became clear that things just weren’t in the cards for the black and gold. But one of the most obvious factors to the matter was the defense, working on a skeleton crew with a new face. A very bright and shining face, but still part of a very small group of players Boston leaned on down the stretch in their short time in the postseason.
Right off the bat, a 40 year old man taking so many minutes. Chara’s a kind of insane Dark Souls giant that just can’t be stopped until he is. Once the Bruins injuries started with Krug going down in game 81, Chara averaged just under 28 minutes of ice time a game, seeing less than 25 minutes just once, during game 4. His average ice time went up over four and a half minutes compared to his regular season total of 23:20 per game.
Kevan Miller also took on the brunt of the minutes lost, and played solidly, picking up crucial penalty kill minutes with Chara while both Carlo and McQuaid were out. Those four were the Bruins main PK defensemen during the regular season, and the only D to have played 50+ minutes shorthanded, a testament to the growing trust and belief in the results Killer can produce from the coaching staff, which is encouraging to him going forward. There should now be no doubt in fans minds who the third defenseman the Bruins will protect in the expansion draft will be, after Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.
Effectively using two defensemen on the penalty kill, occasionally substituting in a Morrow or a Liles, the Bruins killed off 18/23 penalties. Chara and Kevan Miller ate up 70% of the penalty kill minutes. If you include Joe Morrow, that number jumps up to 84%, and adding in Liles as well puts it as high as 93%. These heavy minutes took a toll the longer the series went on, and the more overtimes they played. In game five alone, Chara and Kevan Miller skated 7:55 and 7:36 out of a possible 10:00 on the PK alone, more than any other defenseman besides Joe Morrow had played shorthanded in the entire series for the Bruins. In the end, the Bruins PK ran out of steam, with Marchand, Bergeron, Chara, and Kevan Miller having played too many minutes in too short of a time, and it showed in the overtime.
An entertaining and very encouraging part of this course was the tremendous minutes one Charlie McAvoy took in his first official few NHL games, playing the lion’s share of defensive minutes for a rookie or for a more dynamic player, to great effect, averaging a shade under 24 minutes a night and finishing with 143 minutes of play across all six games. That’s incredible trust put on a rookie that showed up within the last couple of weeks, and should give you nothing but hope and excitement for the upcoming season, because he was in all respects that good, even if he did show some rookie mistakes every once in awhile.
But then you take a look at how the disparity came out after the elimination and it starts to become clear why Boston seemed lethargic and hesitant in their own end. Liles and Chiller took a major hit in their ice time, and it showed as Chiller seemed less confident with the puck, and while both could occasionally show some offensive brilliance, they ended up struggling in their own end a bit, however one wants to chalk that up as playoff nerves or injury is up to the reader. And yes, the loss of Krug - McQuaid was brutal, and it became a hole that the Bruins could barely fill effectively without wearing out three separate players, least of which in their depth pairings where in the relatively few minutes Tommy Cross played that he was...probably not the solution to alleviating the pressure put upon Chara, McAvoy, and Killer, and it caught up with Boston in a big way, having to shift players in such a way that gave them far too much to do without proper support, and thus...well, they ran out of stamina to keep up with the relentless (and healthy) Senators.
There were plenty of other concerns, but this one became more and more clear as time dragged on that, for all the kvetching we’ve done over the past season, the Boston system relies on it’s specific set of players to succeed, and it should come to nobody’s surprise that when severely undermanned it just doesn’t work the way it should.
And as always in the playoffs, even the smallest factor can mean the difference between a win and elimination during a series. And this I think we can agree...was a pretty big factor.
Ah well...It does make one pine for next season. After all, if it’s proven we can trust these players in the hardest situations that the NHL can offer, then just think what some of these guys could do in 82 games.