Analyzing Boston's historic collapse

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It’s rare when you get to do a piece like this. It’s never happened in the NBA. It’s happened once in Major League Baseball and before tonight it’s only happened twice in the NHL. Tonight, however, the Boston Bruins did what only the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1942 Detroit Red Wings did before them: Lose a seven-game series that they at one time led three games to none.

For the Bruins, the questions will linger about what they could’ve changed, who is at fault, what needs to change to fix things for the future. After all, the Bruins lost in a soul-crippling playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes last year. Coming back from that season with a historical failure like this after fighting so many issues with the team during the season (eg: scoring goals consistently) you have to wonder if general manager Peter Chiarelli will look to make some bench adjustments as well as ones in the locker room. 

The problems this year for the Bruins come playoff time are pretty easy to pick out. Killer instinct managed to completely disappear. After winning in overtime in such a stifling and impressive way in Game 1, the same  could not be said for Game 4’s overtime period. One would think that with the opposing team on the ropes in a game where they could be eliminated you’d want to put things away. Instead, Mike Richards scored and gave the Flyers some life. The Bruins would return home for Game 5 and see the Flyers come out and shut them down for their best game of the playoffs and then hear their home fans in Boston turn on the team. Not exactly inspiring stuff. The rest, as they will now say, is history and history was summed up almost perfectly within the confines of Game 7 by itself.

Often forgotten in all this is the loss of David Krejci to the Bruins lineup while the Flyers re-gained Simon Gagne to theirs. While the sample size is small, the Bruins didn’t win a game in the playoffs without Krejci and the Flyers offense was certainly better and a lot deeper with Gagne in the lineup. But why was Game 7 just a microcosm of the series? Take a look after the jump for that and more about the historical significance of what went down in Game 7.

The Bruins’ game plan in Game 7 was to come out fast, get their crowd involved, and try to put the Flyers away early and roll from there. They sort of did that, jumping out to a 3-0 lead not even 15 minutes into the first period. The crowd was going bonkers, the Bruins were rolling and the game plan was working perfectly. But just like the Flyers did in the series, all it takes is one, and James Van Riemsdyk’s goal, a horrid squeaker past Tuukka Rask, was the one that jump-started the Flyers and began the demise of the Bruins.

Van Riemsdyk’s goal took the crowd out of the game and gave the Flyers the momentum lift they needed as they turned the pressure up in the final minutes of the first period, a momentum shift that would take over the rest of the game. After the Bruins outshot the Flyers 14-8 in the first period, the Flyers would turn the tables and outshoot and outwork the Bruins the rest of the way to a tune of 19-11.

To wrap your head around the historical significance of this, it didn’t just end with collapsing in a series they lead 3-0, it also made itself apparent in the way the game ended up being decided. At 11:10 of the third, the Bruins picked up a penalty for too many men on the ice. While that penalty has been a news story throughout and the Bruins were certainly guilty of the enfraction, its ties to the fate of the 1979 Bruins run deep. In Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals, the Bruins lead the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in the third period before picking up a too many men penalty. Guy LeFleur would score with the man advantage and force the game to overtime where the Canadiens would knock off the Bruins. 

Playing the role of Guy LeFleur this time was Simon Gagne, scoring the eventual power play game winner, firing it past Tuukka Rask. The Flyers would then lock it down defensively and go to great efforts to kill time. Michael Leighton made it all stand up stopping 22 shots and completing the biggest comeback the NHL has seen in 35 years.

As far as trying to compare this to their work during the regular season, the Bruins twice had losing streaks of four or more games. In December they had a stretch of four games, and through January and February they had a run of 10 straight losses. If you’re thinking they were “due” for a run of bad play, well, maybe you’re backed up by those numbers. For the Bruins, history and discussions of truly epic failures will now follow them as long as teams get down 3-0 in a series. For a season that ended on a high note in making the playoffs and looking strong against the Sabres to have it end in such a gut-punching way is one that true Bruins fans would like to forget.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.