Welcome to Pete’s Postmortems, where we’ll attempt to make sense of how and why things went wrong for the teams that have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Boston Bruins' postseason run came to a screeching halt in the second round on Long Island. After entering the matchup as favorites, the Bruins took a 2-1 series lead over the New York Islanders before dropping three straight, the last being Wednesday night’s 6-2 loss. It was a highly disappointing (though not highly unimaginable) finish to the season for Boston, whose Cup window continues to close tighter and tighter.
There are a few major reasons why things went wrong this time, so let’s dive into those.
Lack of production behind the top line
It’s no secret that the Bruins have one of the top lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. That line is an outstanding two-way unit capable of taking over a game at any moment, and it made a big impact in this series. Marchand and Pastrnak had nine points apiece, while Bergeron had five points over the six games.
But while Boston held the edge in top-end forward talent, its lack of depth up front proved to be costly — and that’s something that shouldn’t come as a huge shock against an Islanders team that is capable of rolling four strong, steady lines.
One of the Bruins’ most identifiable weaknesses over the past couple of years has been inconsistency in production behind the top line. They had earned a reputation of being a one-line team, and that’s why they were compelled to go out and acquire Taylor Hall from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline. The hope was that Hall would give Boston a fearsome top six and, for the most part, that goal was accomplished down the stretch.
That revamped second line featuring Hall alongside David Krejci and Craig Smith wasn’t quite as noisy and effective as the Bruins would have liked against the Islanders. Hall had one goal (on the power play) and an assist. Smith had a goal and an assist as well. Krejci had seven points, with four coming on the power play.
But the real disappointment came via the bottom six forwards. The lower end of Boston’s lineup struggled almost all season long, and it got almost nothing from those depth forwards in this series.
Of the 17 goals that the Bruins scored against the Islanders, only one came from a forward outside of the top six. In fact, Boston’s bottom-six forwards combined for just three total points.
Third-line center Charlie Coyle, who was once a key depth piece, had a horrible series. The Bruins were outscored 9-2 with him on the ice at 5v5. The fourth line was also a major liability, with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner having an extremely rough series.
On the other side, the Islanders may not have gotten an overly dominant series from any of their forwards, but they did get contributions throughout the lineup. The only New York forward who failed to record a point against Boston was Matt Martin.
For as good as the Bruins’ top line is, it can’t do it all.
Instability on the back end
Depth wasn’t just a problem up front, either. After letting Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara walk in the offseason, Boston brought a thin and relatively inexperienced blue line into this season and essentially hoped for the best. It was a bumpy ride, but the Bruins were able to survive … until they weren’t.
There were also some growing pains with the young defensemen this season — particularly Jeremy Lauzon, who had some ugly moments in this series. The most notable came in Game 2 when a panic mistake from Lauzon at the top of the zone led to the turnover that produced Casey Cizikas’ game-winner in overtime.
Luck and health were also not on Boston’s side as these playoffs wore on, especially when it came to the back end. The oft-injured Kevan Miller missed the entire Islanders series after playing four games in the first round. John Moore also missed the entire series. But the big blow came when the Bruins lost Brandon Carlo after a hit into the boards in Game 4 knocked him out of the series.
Carlo was Boston’s second-most important defenseman behind Charlie McAvoy, and his presence as a steady top-four guy was sorely missed in the final two-plus games. After having given up seven goals in the first three games, the Bruins surrendered 15 over the next three.
Boston particularly missed Carlo and Miller on the penalty kill in Game 5, when the Bruins dominated at 5v5 but were atrocious on the PK and surrendered three power-play goals to the Islanders in a 5-4 loss. Had Boston even got an average performance on the PK it may have won that swing game, but the defensive play was suspect all night.
That instability on the back end continued into Wednesday’s elimination Game 6, as Boston made far too many mistakes on its own side of the ice. Matt Grzelcyk had an incredibly rough showing in the finale, coughing up two costly turnovers that directly led to Islanders goals in the second period.
And then there was Tuukka Rask as the last line of defense. After a strong start to the playoffs, Rask faded quite hard at the end. He was reportedly dealing with an injury, and he certainly didn’t look to be at his best, particularly in Games 5 and 6. Rask didn’t receive much help from the guys in front of him, but he also struggled to control rebounds, handle the puck and make an occasional big save.
Overall, though, this was a thinly constructed blue line that was only going to get the Bruins where they wanted to go if A) everyone stayed healthy and effective and B) they got top-tier goaltending behind them. Neither of those things happened.
What to watch for Thursday
VGK lost the first two games but has won three straight. A Game 6 victory would send the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup semifinals against Montreal.