This year, the skates were packed away and the hopes of defending that title dashed before the end of April after falling to Washington in the opening round.
Thursday at the Garden, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, principal Charlie Jacobs and president Cam Neely met with the media to discuss the disappointment of the early end of the season and the mixed emotions it elicited.
"I can't say I'm not proud of our team," Charlie Jacobs said. "I am. I feel real proud of the organization and Cam, and [general manager] Peter [Chiarelli] and [coach] Claude [Julien] and the players – real happy and proud of the effort that we gave. But by the same token I can't say that I'm up here with a giant smile on my face because I just don't have one. I feel we could've had a better ending."
Neely was even more forceful, stressing that the Bruins not only could have had a better, and later, ending to the season, but should have had one. After last year's Cup run, just making the playoffs is no longer acceptable.
"It should be unacceptable," Neely said. "With the players that we have, the talent that we have, the coaching staff that we have, you can't accept a first-round exit. I believe we're a franchise that's beyond, 'Let's make the playoffs.' Beyond, 'Let's have a good showing in the first round.' I think we're beyond that. Expectations are much higher now."
Jeremy Jacobs even added that he felt this year's team was stronger than last year's championship squad.
"It's a solid team," Jacobs said. "It's the same team, probably a little better than the team that won the Stanley Cup in the sense, you look at the skill level and the age of the players. So, I'd say bottom line we wanted to do better, we expected to do better, we had every reason to believe we'd do better."
So what went wrong? The leaders of the Bruins pointed to the parity in the league, the struggles to overcome injuries and the daunting task it is to repeat as Cup champions with the mental strain of coming off such a long season. But Neely also made it clear that he knew the Bruins didn't do enough to win when it mattered most and he wasn't willing to accept excuses.
"I don't think we played our best games at all, in the games that we lost, and even some of the games that we won, I don’t think we played our best hockey," Neely said of the series with the Capitals. "And that part is difficult to swallow because we all feel we should still be playing right now and you get out of the first round and you never know what happens in the second round."
When asked about comments made after the series by Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand about the difficulties they had getting up for the playoffs this year, Neely was equally unwilling to accept any excuses.
"I know how emotionally draining the playoffs are," Neely said. "But as a professional you should find a way to get yourself ready for playoff hockey."
Neely was also quick to point out that he was confident that the Bruins would be back hungrier than even next year, and that the core of the team was up to the challenge of getting the Bruins back to the top of the hockey world.
"Just because of the character of our players, I'm confident," Neely said. "When you're a professional athlete, you're in the sport to win – or at least you should be in the sport to win. I think we've done a really good job of bringing in players that want to win and have the right character to win us championships. So, I think as the offseason progresses and it's longer and longer than maybe they realized that they would like, I feel pretty confident they'll come back with the right attitude next September."
And the Bruins owner was even more confident that the next end-of-season news conference would come a little later in the spring, and feature a little more of an upbeat atmosphere.
"I think we've got to tell the Stanley Cup winner this year that the Cup's on loan to them," Jeremy Jacobs said. "That's going to come back home here in the near term."
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