Bruins hoping for happier New Year

BOSTON -- Plenty went wrong for the Boston Bruins in 2014.

The worst, without question, was losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. In the offseason, largely due to salary-cap constraints, the Bruins lost veterans Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton to free agency.

It didn't get any better during training camp when the Bruins traded veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for a pair of draft picks. Then significant injuries to key players Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Adam McQuaid contributed to Boston's slow start to the 2014-15 season.

On the ice, the Bruins haven't been this inconsistent for such a long stretch of time in years. Boston was hoping to end the 2014 portion of this season with a pair of wins over divisional opponents, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins defeated the Red Wings 5-2 on Monday, but took a step backward with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday at TD Garden.

After the loss, Bruins forward Milan Lucic hadn't even been asked a question before he made a telling statement.

"I'll start off," he said. "It wasn't a good 2014. I'm happy it's over. I'm looking forward to 2015. Hopefully we can turn things around. Not much good things happened in 2014 for myself and for the team. Just looking forward to 2015 and turning things around and hopefully it will be better than this year."

In 2014, a few decent things happened for the Bruins. The team won the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best regular-season team during 2013-2014. Goaltender Tuukka Rask won the Vezina Trophy. David Krejci was given a contract extension, as was coach Claude Julien.

But none of those good tidings have translated into wins this season.

Injuries, inexperience and lineup changes have turned the Bruins into a below-average team.

"Our bread and butter has always been hard work and out-battling teams," Rask said. "That's the way it has to be for us in order to get us going. When we try to be fancy it doesn't work for us. There are no more excuses anymore. Nobody should be too tired to keep working. We have to mentally prepare ourselves and go out there and do it."

As simple as that sounds, the Bruins have expressed those very same sentiments time and again this season. Boston is nearly at the midway point of the season, with only 44 games remaining. The Bruins did earn a point in the shootout loss to the Maple Leafs, but remain third in the wild-card race, now three points behind Toronto.

Echoing the final minute before the New Year, Lucic can hear the season ticking away as Boston is in desperate need of a lengthy winning streak.

"It has to happen," Lucic said. "It has to happen if we want to get ourselves back in the picture. We want to be where we want to be at the end of the year and it's up to us to make it happen."

Ownership and management can't be too happy with the team's lackluster play this season. General manager Peter Chiarelli will need to do something to improve this team. Whether big or small, a transaction or two seems inevitable for the Bruins.

Rumors are already flying as to what Chiarelli will do. It's always stressful in the locker room when speculation abounds, especially when a team is not playing to its potential.

Whether or not Chiarelli makes any moves, the players are still clinging to the notion that this team has enough to build some momentum and climb back into playoff contention.

"You can't wait for [trades]. You can't. I don't think guys are," Lucic said. "I hope that guys aren't. I hope that we're not waiting around for some savior to come in and help this team be the team that it should be because it hasn't happened in the past.

"The core group is still here, so we still have the ability to be the team that we were in the past, so we can't wait for whether the GM is going to make a move or not."

Lucic went on and on about how this team has the right pieces. He also took the individual blame for not producing this season.

As bad as things may seem, it's not too late in the season to call what the Bruins are doing a work in progress. Consistency should already be in place by this point, but it hasn't happened. It's fair to wonder if it will ever occur for the Bruins.

"I sure hope so," said Rask. "I don't know what to say, honestly. It's been like this the whole year."

Too many times this season the Bruins have looked like an entirely different team, often times even during the course of a single game, leaving Rask and the rest of the team shaking their heads in disbelief time and again, trying to figure out how to fix these mistakes, letdowns and mental instabilities.

"Inconsistencies within the games is something we need to get rid of in order to be a successful team," Rask said.

Now that the calendar has flipped to 2015 and the Bruins' window of success is shrinking, every game is a must-win. There's zero time to sit back and wait for other teams to falter. Boston needs to control its own destiny in 2015, and the Bruins have to recapture their perennial Stanley Cup contender mentality.

"I hope we can wipe this year off now and start fresh," Rask said.