TAMPA, Fla. -- It’s hard to believe the Boston Bruins failed to earn an eighth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But based on their struggles, injuries, lack of consistency, lack of emotion and lack of typical Bruins-style hockey for much of the 2014-2015 season, it's easy to see why and how a once-perennial Stanley Cup contender is on the outside looking in this spring.
Just the same, there’s no reason the Bruins’ postseason hopes should have been determined in game 82. You could see it coming with the way the entire season broke down. Had the Bruins somehow figured out a way to reach the postseason, they wouldn’t have been a dangerous team, based on their talent and experience.
But we’ll never know.
“We had so many chances to fix our game, play better and clinch a spot, but we didn’t,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “At the end of the day, you get what you deserve, and this is exactly what we deserve.
“Although, we had 96 points, so a lot of years that would’ve been good enough. So you can’t say that we totally tanked, but obviously, we couldn’t take the last step.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien offered similar sentiments.
“Everybody is pretty down right now. When you don’t make the playoffs, you’ve failed,” Julien said. “You’d like to think that everybody in there is a proud athlete, and they’re certainly not taking this lightly. All of us are feeling the same way right now. It’s disappointing. It’s a failed season for us.”
In early January, when the Bruins were struggling, CEO Charlie Jacobs said this season would be a “complete failure” and “absolutely unacceptable” if the team missed the playoffs. Jacobs cited all the resources ownership has put into the team as reasons it should reach the playoffs.
Now some serious decisions need to be made. Jacobs can’t make those comments and not act on them.
It should start with the roster, not necessarily general manager Peter Chiarelli or Julien. Many will blame the salary cap issues or the fact that Chiarelli traded top-four defenseman Johnny Boychuk at the start of the season. But this one falls on the players. This roster was good enough to win. Most of these players underachieved.
Trades will be made, and many of the team’s five unrestricted free agents -- Carl Soderberg, Adam McQuaid, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Matt Bartkowski -- will likely be playing elsewhere next season. Even core players such as Milan Lucic, who definitely had a subpar season, could be on the trade block.
“Obviously, there are high expectations on this team and on this organization, and when those high expectations aren’t met, changes seem to usually be made,” Lucic said. “As a player, those are things that are out of your control.
“Personally, I want to be back and stay in Boston. You love it here. You love the team, you love the city, you love the organization, and you hope that things stay the same as much as they can.”
Many of the players expressed concerns about the changes that could come. Bruins forward Brad Marchand said this team shouldn’t be torn apart, but the reality is adjustments will occur sooner than later.
“I’m sure changes are going to happen, and it’s not going to be exactly the same team next year,” Rask said. “We’ll see what happens, but this is not the way the Bruins should finish their season."
When the Bruins started this three-game road trip, they were in control of their own destiny. But consecutive losses to the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers and Lightning exemplified how the season unfolded.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” Marchand said. “I don’t think any of us really expected to be in this position at any point during the season. It’s just tough to believe hockey is done for the year. It’s tough to swallow, and it means we didn’t do our job this year. It’s a weird feeling.”
The entire season was a struggle for the Bruins. Zdeno Chara missed 20 games with a knee injury and was not the same player when he returned to the lineup. Top-line center David Krejci played only 47 games due to a pair of injuries. Many others were sidelined for extended periods of time, including McQuaid, Kevan Miller and Dougie Hamilton, who missed the final 10 games due to a rib injury.
There was much more to this disastrous season than injuries, however.
“The whole year, we were struggling to find our identity, and that’s what killed us in the end,” Lucic said. “You get 96 points, and that’s usually enough to get into the playoffs, but this year not enough. It’s obviously disappointing. We weren’t able to find that identity throughout the season. There were spurts of it, but the consistency of it wasn’t there, and that’s what hurt us in the end. We didn’t have enough guys going consistently and at the same for enough of the season, and it ends up costing us.”
Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron was the most distraught.
“I never thought we would be in this situation. It’s hard to get my head around it right now,” he said. “We never should’ve come to this point. We had a lot more chances to get ourselves in the playoffs before that, and we definitely lacked consistency, and it showed.”
Players such as Rask had a huge workload. He played a career-high 70 games, which matches a franchise record for one season. Overall, he finished with a 34-21-13 record, a 2.30 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. After all of it, he said he feels fine physically but the mental aspect of that much playing time wore him down.
“Honestly, it felt like [I] played 15 playoff series out there,” Rask said. “It was tough, but we battled and I battled, and I just tried to give us a chance to win every game. The last, I don’t know how many games, it just felt like if I let in more than two goals, it’s going to be done. Obviously, that drains you mentally, but we battled.”
“I don’t think the amount of games,” he continued, “but when you’re struggling with your team game, and you know you have to be on top of your game every night, and you play 70 of those games, it’s tough. It’s too much for anybody because it’s a playoff game every night out there.”
For a few players, this is the first time in their careers they haven’t reached the playoffs. Those players include Lucic, who in 81 games this season scored only 18 goals and added 26 assists for 44 points.
“I’ve never been through this, so it’s tough,” he said. “You do whatever you can to give yourselves a chance to play for the Cup, and now you don’t even get a chance to play for it. That’s a terrible, horrible feeling. Sometimes you’ve got to go through things like this to make sure it never happens again. Obviously, there’s a lot of regrets on what happened this season.”
Chara called the end to the team’s season a tough situation. He said he hopes the team can learn from this and move on.
“It’s tough to find words right now,” he said.