SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 14, 2014

On Hockey: Bruins left too much to chance, paid Price in Game 7

On Hockey
Matt Williams

---- — BOSTON -- Especially in hockey, Game 7's come down to chance: a flip of a coin or a roll of the dice.

The Boston Bruins entered last night's Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens believing all the experience they'd garnered in these Game 7's over the last seven years would stack those odds in their favor.

They were wrong.

The Habs came into TD Garden and took the Eastern Conference semifinal series from the President's Trophy-winning Bruins with a 3-1 victory in front of a stunned and restless crowd of 17,565.

"Especially when you know that you have a team that was so good and consistent throughout the whole season, and you have a good enough team to win more than one series, it's something that you're going to be thinking about," B's captain Zdeno Chara said. "I'll be thinking about it for sure, quite a bit."

The team scoring the first goal won every game of this series, and Montreal got that last night when Dale Weise scored just 2:18 in. American Olympian Max Pacioretty made it 2-0 midway through the second, and by that time it was simply impossible for Boston to chase the game the rest of the way.

"When it comes to the playoffs, mistakes can cost you games, or (a) series," said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who had a .903 save percentage in the series, well below his regular season mark of .930.

Jarome Iginla's power play goal late in the second period gave his team some life, but overall Boston just didn't have the energy to break down Montreal's defense for the full 60 minutes. Falling behind early did them in.

"It’s really tough. I think we expected to go all the way this year. It’s

 very tough; very disappointing. It’s hard to really put into

words. It’s – we expected a lot more," said winger Brad Marchand.

It was an NHL record when the Bruins played in a Game 7 for a seventh straight season here last night; they won three of them on their way to the Stanley Cup in 2011, and believed those experiences and the near-miss in the epic comeback against Toronto last year taught them the lessons needed to win these games.

All that experience, and all that consistent regular season play, meant nothing to Montreal.

"It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s always a little nerve wracking

stepping into a Game Seven and with the amount of pressure we had on our

 team, it can just give you a little bit of jitters," Bruins winger Brad Marchand said. "But I think we

calmed down, played well, after that. We just couldn’t bear (down)."

The Habs proved that scoring goals wins games. With their backs against the wall, they scored five times in Game 6 and three times here last night, with the dagger on a power play caused by Johnny Boychuck's cross-check with only 2:57 to go.

The Bruins, on the other hand, pulled a total no show in Game 6 and then scored only once in Game 7. They managed one goal in the final two games of the season against gold medal winning goaltender Carey Price. He made 29 saves last night, but carries a career NHL playoff save percentage of .886 against teams other than the Bruins.

Why can't the Black-and-Gold score on a goaltender that was yanked in favor of Peter Budaj in last year's playoffs and yanked in favor of Jaroslav Halak in 2010?

Partly because he, and Montreal, are a better team than they were then. But it's also partly because the Bruins still lack players with elite finishing ability.

In the last seven years, the Bruins have lost the last game of the season six times. In those games, they've scored nine total goals, an average of 1.50. That's not good enough, and the it's common thread to the end of most of these promising seasons.

Boston's first line was particularly ineffective against Montreal. David Krejci did not score, Milan Lucic had one goal in the series and Iginla, try as he did, hit more posts than nets. Marchand is also goalless in his last 19 playoff games.

Boston controlled stretched of play last night, but didn't finish. Extended offensive zone shifts and chances are good, but they're only great if they end with goals. Otherwise, it's like driving the football for 80 yards and kicking a field goal.

In this series, it felt like Boston turned it over on downs every time.

The line of thinking was that Boston's punishing, physical style would wear down Montreal. All that Big-and-Bad was also meaningless last night, with Montreal looking like the team with fresh legs; they were back on every Boston rush and took away time and space all night.

How could the B's have done more to turn the odds in their favor?

Their lack of additions at the trade deadline will haunt them. General manager Peter Chiarelli famously said he was looking forward to seeing Montreal after they acquired Thomas Vanek (4 goals in the series). His confidence and bravado are to be admired, but it's not a good look this morning.

The B's could've used another defenseman, as the play of Matt Bartkowski and others dropped off sharply from the Detroit series. They could've used some more depth on the forward lines, even as Matt Fraser played well enough coming up from Providence.

Great teams make their own luck. The way the Bruins played in Game 6, with a chance to close out Montreal and advance, was the antithesis of creating luck.

Boston was the best team in the National Hockey League during the regular season. At the deadline, and in this series, they were willing to roll the dice with the team they had.

This time, they came up snake eyes.

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Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.