If you followed the Boston Bruins this year, you probably experienced joy, confusion, amazement and then, finally, heartbreak. The B’s finished 13th overall in the league, seventh in the East and third in the Atlantic Division to make it to the postseason for the first time in three years.
Boston went 44-31 this season (23-17-1 at home) and since the replacement of Head Coach Claude Julien by his assistant Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins expected to make a deep playoff run. Since the changing of the guard on Feb. 7, the Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37) and shots allowed (741). They also tied for second in the NHL for wins (18) and in power play percentage (27.8 percent).
Their success was cut short in the first round of the playoffs by the Ottawa Senators, who beat the Bruins in six games, four of which were decided in overtime. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the two teams were separated by one goal 90.9 percent of the entire series. A lucky bounce here or there could have been the deciding factor for the Bruins advancing to face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Unfortunately, the Bruins couldn’t figure out how to replace Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, two of their most stalwart defensemen. David Krejci, one of Boston’s top producers at forward (54 points), was also out with an upper-body injury. Ultimately, inexperience proved to be the most devastating crux, as 11 of the Bruins’ skaters made their Stanley Cup Playoff debut. Centerpiece defenseman Charlie McAvoy, captain Zdeno Chara’s partner, was fresh off a season with Boston University and had no NHL game experience when he was called up for game one of the playoffs. The inexperience cost the Bruins some untimely penalties, which lead to some unfavorable results.
On the bright side, inexperience does not last long and since it may be a short-term problem, the Bruins are poised to excel in the 2017-18 season. McAvoy averaged 26:11 minutes of play in the postseason series, where he tallied three assists. David Pastrnak, who accrued a career-high of 70 points, had never played in the postseason either. This is valuable experience for a team that relied heavily on veterans like Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in the regular season.
With Bruce Cassidy accepting the position as head coach for the indefinite future, the Bruins seek to unlock some of the creativity that led to their second-half success in the regular season. It’s a fast game dominated by youth and inventiveness. Look at the NHL’s top scorers; 18 rookies posted 30 points or more and nine of the top 25 point leaders are under 25 years of age. The Bruins need to cultivate talent from the Providence Bruins, who placed seventh this year in the AHL with multiple 50-point scorers and create a strong depth chart to support the hard work of their veterans. Even though the Bruins did not achieve that storybook ending New England has become used to, this season was a harbinger for the good things to come.