The B’s picked a pretty inopportune time to play one of their worst periods of the season, as they were flatter than a piece of paper in the opening minutes. That slow start is a big reason the Bruins lost Game 7 by the score of 3-1 and saw their season end Wednesday night.
The Bruins knew — or at least they said they knew — how important a strong start would be. The team that scored first had won all six games of the series leading up to Game 7. The Bruins saw how vital it was in Game 6, too, where Lars Eller’s goal just 2:11 into the game set the tone for a 4-0 blowout. In Game 7, it was Dale Weise who scored the game’s first goal just 2:18 into the game.
The goal was only part of the problem. The Bruins were sloppy with the puck for almost the entire period. Their breakouts were poor, and their transition game was nonexistent. The puck seemed allergic to the Boston sticks. It was a mess and a waste of a valuable 20 minutes of hockey.
For a team like the Bruins that struggles to play from behind, and in a series in which scoring the first goal was so important, it’s easy to see why Boston’s 3-2 series withered.
“I don’t know if we were nervous or — for sure that wasn’t the start that we were kind of trying to have,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “We were not moving the puck well.”
The Bruins’ core has plenty of Game 7 experience. When you look at players such as Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci or Johnny Boychuk — just to name a few — playing in a Game 7 is nothing new for them. But for some of the younger players — especially on the back end — the magnitude of that moment can be intimidating. That seemed to be the case for the Bruins’ young defensemen. It especially was evident on the first Canadiens goal when Matt Bartkowski (playing in his second career Game 7) was caught puck-watching and allowed Weise to slide in the back door and score on a pass from Daniel Briere.
“There’s no doubt that there was maybe a lot on their plate in these last few games and maybe could tell a lack of experience and the nervousness,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “But it’s not just those guys. We had seven first-year players — some a little older than others — but seven first-year players in our lineup. And I’m not using that as an excuse. I’m just saying that to me, that stood out tonight as far as guys maybe not being at the top of their game.”
The Bruins were lucky to escape the period only down a goal. However, the Canadiens scored the next goal, too, as Max Pacioretty’s revival continued with the big winger blasting a one-timer by Tuukka Rask midway through the second. Boston was a year and a day removed from its historic Game 7 comeback against Toronto, but no such comeback was in the cards Wednesday night. There are only so many times you come back before it catches up to you. It caught up with the Bruins in Game 7.
“I’ve said that before — you can’t rely on comebacks to win games every time, and that’s it,” Bergeron said. “That’s an example right there that it’s not going to happen every time. You do believe, you do have the confidence that it might happen, but you can’t rely on it.”
That reliance might have turned hopes of a deep playoff run into a disappointing end to the season.