Bruins Lost To A Better Team

BOSTON — The Bruins scored 16 goals and hit 13 goal posts in a seven-game series that ultimately ended in stinging season elimination.

Some would call the Bruins unlucky.

Not me.

Hockey, like all great competitive endeavors, is a game of inches. Yet anyone who would dare say that the better team lost the Eastern Conference semifinals does so at the extreme risk of putting an entire foot in his mouth.

Inches. Sminches.

On the heels of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance last spring, this was a horrible defeat for the Bruins. This is a team that won the President's Trophy with the best regular season record in the NHL. This is a team built to win the Stanley Cup now.

They played with poise and mounting effectiveness through the winter and into the spring to earn home-ice advantage for a seventh game. And after producing an uneven series against Montreal through six games, they came out in the first period of what turned into a 3-1 seventh-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens flat, rattled, flustered, discombobulated — whatever — insert your own term.

In a seventh game? To come up with a first-period stink bomb? No excuses.

When Jarome Iginla, who had pulled the Bruins within a goal on a power-play goal late in the second period, hit the 13th post in the third, Mike Adams, the clever WEEI host, tweeted that the Bruins had "more posts than an annoying Facebook friend."

True. All true.

Yet as the fans, expecting so much more on this night, littered the ice with yellow towels in the closing seconds, the larger truth is that the Bruins got what they deserved. Yes, losing to the Canadiens is the worst thing in the world, although the non-Bruins fans in Connecticut will undoubtedly get a kick out of the facts that a former Wolf Pack player (Dale Weise) and a kid out of New Canaan (Max Pacioretty) scored huge goals and that Weise evidently drove Milan Lucic past the point on no return.

Even after falling behind in this game, there was an air of expectation in the third period that the Bruins would storm back. After all, the Bruins, trailing Toronto 4-1 midway through the third period of Game 7 a year and a day ago, staged a comeback for the ages. Hey, in Game 2 of this series, trailing 3-1 midway through the third period, Boston rattled off four goals for a 5-3 victory.

When the music gets blaring "Black Betty" and "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" and the Bruins furiously pick up the pace, anything seems possible. But the harder truth is that this is hockey. This isn't basketball. And when there is a goalie like Carey Price, who backstopped Canada to the Olympic gold medal, outplaying your own Vezina Trophy-worthy goalie Tuukka Rask, well, wiping out leads with the season on the line can be an impossible task.

It certainly was on this night.

There was an awful lot of self-anointed superiority around Boston when it came to the Bruins. The story seemed to keep coming back to, oh, the Canadiens are lucky. Or the Canadiens are the inferior team, but they somehow get under the Bruins skin and are fortuitous enough to score power-play goals and throw them off their game.

Look, when you get outscored 7-1 in the final two games, you aren't unlucky. You got beat.

The first line of David Krejci, Lucic and Iginla simply didn't do enough. Brad Marchand hasn't scored a playoff goal since Pie McKenzie played and there were times when the Little Ball of Hate was the Big Giveaway. Defenseman Matt Bartkowski, dismal on Montreal's opening goal, played at times like he was Steve Bartkowski. And the tail end of the Bruins' lineup, the fourth line, got outplayed by Weise-Daniel Briere-Brandon Prust.

Say this much about Lucic. If he played with as much inspiration on the ice in this series as he did engaging in off-ice histrionics, both he and the Bruins would have been much better off. Lucic didn't have a shot on goal in Game 7. His only attempt was blocked. He was something less than Cam Neely.

If Weise, who played a couple of years in Hartford while with the Rangers organization, is to be believed, Lucic threatened him in the handshake line. Weise said that Lucic said something threatening to Alexei Emelin, too. He didn't specify exactly what.

"If he wants to be a baby about it, he can go right ahead," Lucic said. "Disrespect? I don't know what they're talking about. Having a goal celebration? What kind of disrespect is that?"

Look, it's no secret that these two franchise despise each other. The Canadiens had been playing the "disrespected" theme in the closing days of the series. After the pregame skate on Wednesday, defenseman Mike Weaver joined a number of players in discussing it. How much of it was gamesmanship and how much of it was earnest? You can go round and round on that stuff.

This much we do know. In Game 6, Weise flexed his muscles at Lucic at the end of the first period. That's after Game 5 when Lucic flexed his muscles from the bench at P.K. Subban. Lucic and Weise also pounded on their chests after goals during the series. Bottom line: Lots of chest-pounding and not enough smart hockey by the Bruins.

"Just having some fun within the game," Lucic told reporters earlier in the day. "As serious as this game can be, sometimes it has to be fun as well. [Subban] likes to have fun, too."

Suffice to say it wasn't fun in the Boston locker room afterward.

"It's frustrating we lost," Lucic said. "We let our fans down. We had a great opportunity. It's a tough one to swallow."

The team that scored first won the first six games and when Weise scored 2:18 into the game Wednesday, that certainly didn't bode well for the Bruins. Bartkowski didn't keep the puck deep and then on the other end he and Paille stood there and watched Weise cut to the net and stuff Briere's pass behind Rask. Briere, who had been a healthy scratch in Game 5, returned from the doghouse and played a hero.

The Canadiens' lead grew to two when Pacioretty snapped a shot past Rask with 9:38 left in the second period. Krejci did leave a nice drop pass for Torey Krug and Iginla deflected a shot past Price for a power-play goal. But that was it.

"To beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 in Boston," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said, "this group earned the respect."

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