And then there were five: Bruins eliminated

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The Boston Bruins cruised through the regular season, claiming the Presidents’ Trophy, then easily dispatched of the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

In the second round, though, the B’s finally found their match against their long-time rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.

The Bruins and Canadiens played in an NHL record ninth Game 7 on Wednesday night, but Montreal scored early and never surrendered the lead, sending the Bruins packing after just 12 postseason contests.

The Bruins certainly looked capable of going the distance this year, but now they will be left to ask what, if anything, needs to change for them to get over the hump after coming up short for the third straight campaign.

  • There are reasons to believe that things will get better on their own next season for the Bruins. Those who want to make that argument will be quick to point a finger at forward Loui Eriksson. He was supposed to be the centerpiece of the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas in the summer of 2013, but suffered two concussions that really derailed his campaign. The 28-year-old forward will get a full summer to regroup and return as a bigger part of the Boston attack in 2014-15.
  • The Bruins’ young defense, led by Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and Kevan Miller also seems to be coming along nicely. The trio made mistakes in this playoff run, but more than held their own for the most part.
  • That’s key, because the B’s might need to start getting adjusting to life without Zdeno Chara — or at least not the Chara they’ve gotten used to. The 37-year-old defenseman averaged fewer minutes per game in the 2014 playoffs than he has in any run since 2009, despite the fact Boston was missing blueliner Dennis Seidenberg. There’s no question Chara’s still a dominant force in the NHL, but his age might start to become increasingly apparent.
  • Boston’s major pending unrestricted free agent is Jarome Iginla. There’s a good chance the team will re-sign him, but it won’t be easy. The problem isn’t convincing Iginla, it’s that his 2013-14 contract was heavy on performance bonuses. The Bruins didn’t have the cap space to cover them this season, so they’ll count against the Bruins’ cap hit in 2014-15, which makes Boston’s already tight cap situation a little more difficult.
  • With that in mind, even if the Bruins wanted to make significant changes, it would be hard for them to do so. They just don’t have much in the way of cap flexibility, although there’s always a chance they’ll find a way to pull off another blockbuster trade like they did last year.

For more entries in this series, click here.

Crosby: Penguins ‘probably deserved better’ vs. Senators in Game 6

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If you didn’t know that the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be awfully cruel, then the last week or so of action should make it pretty clear.

The Nashville Predators lost top center Ryan Johansen to a scary ailment few would have seen coming. The Anaheim Ducks fell in both games to the Johansen-less Predators, even after dominating significant chunks of Game 6. At least one Ducks player wondered if the better team won.

Much like in life, “fair” and “deserve” only matter so much. Sports have a scoreboard to serve as the ultimate deciding factor.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have similar thoughts after falling 2-1 to the Ottawa Senators tonight, extending the Eastern Conference Final to a decisive Game 7. You can nitpick questionable penalties and missed chances, but really, how negative can you be after Craig Anderson puts forth a blazing 45-save performance (with no overtime)?

Mike Sullivan and others echoed such thoughts.

” … Obviously, we’re disappointed in the result, but I don’t think we can get discouraged by that,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve got to take the positives from it, and we’ve got to build on it, and we’ve got to become a more determined team for Game 7.

That’s not the sort of take that’s going to make the Senators angry in Game 7. The tone of the Senators’ discussions was likely very different after they lost Game 5 by a 7-0 score, yet maybe there was similar self belief.

Anderson puzzles Penguins as Senators force Game 7

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Who could blame fans for chanting “Andy” tonight?

The Ottawa Senators said they would choose to fight in Game 6, and Craig Anderson truly battled in this one, refusing to allow this unlikely run to an end on Tuesday. They wouldn’t roll over, even after a 7-0 humiliation in Game 5.

The underrated goalie continued his memorable (and emotional) 2016-17 season with a brilliant performance, making 45 saves to help Ottawa manage a gutsy 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With that, hockey fans get a true treat: the Eastern Conference will go to a Game 7 on Thursday.

The Senators opted for a “bend but don’t break” strategy for much of the contest, possibly to Guy Boucher’s preference. Even so, the Penguins managed to grind their way to a 1-0 win thanks to another hard-work goal from Evgeni Malkin.

Mistakes would come back to haunt the Penguins, however, as Bobby Ryan broke Ottawa’s lengthy power-play drought to tie things up on a 5-on-3.

With their season in question thanks to a 1-1 tie in the third period, Mike Hoffman sent a booming shot by Matt Murray, and that ended up being all the Senators needed to tie the series 3-3.

Anderson was the standout, but Erik Karlsson was a hero in the way his detractors might not expect.

You can watch Game 7 on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday. The game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports App.

Report: Avalanche get permission to speak with Leafs assistant GM Dubas

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Could one of the most hapless possession teams of this more analytics-leaning era nab arguably the most promising analytics-leaning executive in the NHL?

It’s a reasonable question, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Colorado Avalanche asked for and received permission to speak to Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas.

Current GM Joe Sakic recently got a vote of confidence and also cleaned out some of the coaching staff around Jared Bednar, so this is certainly a time of change for the Avalanche.

It will be interesting to see what kind of role Dubas would receive if he did join the fold in Colorado. Would he still be considered an assistant GM, only with more sway with what would likely be a smaller group of decision-makers? Could we see Sakic move up and give Dubas the full GM title (or eventually transition that role to the young upstart)? Might there be some other factor that would qualify as a more “outside the box” idea?

One thing seems clear: the Avalanche might want to be decisive, as demand could be significant for Dubas if he’s even somewhat on the market.

This could be interesting, especially if you’re a nerd for team-building storylines.

Video: Senators score twice to take 2-1 lead in Game 6

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The Ottawa Senators have defied odds during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’ve done so with what’s often been an ice-cold power play.

They finally struck gold on the man advantage on Tuesday, and at a key moment. The Pittsburgh Penguins were dominating much of the game and pressing for an even bigger edge after Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0.

Maybe the Penguins got overzealous, or maybe officials … finally started making some calls. Either way, the Senators ended up with a 5-on-3 advantage for almost a minute-and-a-half. With that opportunity, Bobby Ryan scored a huge goal for Ottawa on a shot that was both oddly and perfectly placed.

Moments later, Kyle Turris narrowly missed a golden opportunity, so the contest remained tied 1-1.

Despite a late push by the Penguins to finish the second, Game 6 will enter the third period with a 1-1 score.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE COVERAGE FOR GAME 6

Update: Mike Hoffman‘s booming shot gave the Senators a 2-1 lead in the third. We’ll see if Pittsburgh can tie it up.