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Ottawa's success doesn't validate, but rather highlights missed opportunity of Bruins exit

by: Ty Anderson on Wed, 05/10/2017 - 8:00pm

The Senators have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)The Bruins patted themselves on the back following their first-round loss to the Senators. 

Rightfully so, I might add. I was there for an extra pat or two, too, I have to admit. It was obvious that the Bruins battled through some serious injuries -- they ended the series without three members of their top four defense corps and without second line center David Krejci -- and still came within two wins of advancing to the next round. And even when they lost, it wasn’t as if they were blown out by the Senators, as each defeat finished as a one-goal final, and three of their defeats required overtime. Everybody in town called the season a success. Again -- and seemingly -- rightfully so. 

"I think we had a successful season because of what evolved, the changing of the guard in our coaching ranks and I think our leadership showed itself very well," Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said of the B’s season at his year-end press conference. "I think hope springs eternal. I think the direction is good and I think we did a tremendous job once we had [Bruce Cassidy] in place. So I'm happy with where we are and I'm happy looking at the next generation of players coming into this organization."

But as time rages on, and after the Sens punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Rangers, that perception of a success in Boston should change and become embraced as the reality that this was one gigantic missed opportunity for the Black and Gold.

Starting with the obvious here, but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the Senators are not that great of a team. 

Led by Erik Karlsson, who has been nothing short of incredible this spring, the Sens beat a battered and flawed Bruins team in six games. They then defeated a New York group that proved incapable of making the necessary adjustments (their power play went 2-for-24 in the series and somehow looked worse as time went on) to beat the Senators or finding meaningful production from their bigger, proven players. This all sounds too familiar to even recall without double-checking to make sure I'm talking about the Rangers and not the Bruins, to be honest, but it's true for each club. 

I still think the Bruins wreck the Sens if they have their defense intact and if Krejci, who was a rough watch this spring, is even somewhat healthy in the games that he did play. And I think that the Bruins had the system and structure to beat the Rangers in a seven-game series.

That may sound a bit over the top when you recall New York’s season sweep of the Bruins, sure, but then you remember how they handled the Bruins; The Rangers beat up Zane McIntyre in his first NHL start in the first game, scored two shorthanded goals in a game that the Bruins legitimately gave away in the second head-to-head, and then had to rely on Henrik Lundqvist standing on his head to escape Boston with a win. It was hardly the domination you think would come with a season sweep, and serves as my roundabout way of saying that this Bruins team should be competing in round three later this week. 

I’m not sure that the Bruins beat either the Penguins or Capitals in the third round, but still, you would have at least liked the shot given the general sort of vibe that these playoffs have had in two rounds. The East, and even the West for that matter, is wide open. And the Bruins are on the sidelines. 

Consider that and their early exit, even if sparked by injuries, should not be considered a success.

It should sting. 

It does not help that this is not the first time that it's happened to the club.

It happened back in 2012, when the Bruins dropped a seven-game, round one series to the Capitals. That series also featured four one-goal losses for the Bruins, and ended in an overtime loss on home ice. Had the Bruins won that series (and under the league’s old playoff format), the Bruins would have played the Devils in round two. They swept their season series with the Devils that year, and outscored them 18-to-8 in the process. It would have been a coast to the third round, where they would have likely skated against the top-seed Rangers -- and much like it would have been this year -- from there anything would have been possible, as shown by the Devils of all teams being the ones that represented the East in the Cup. And although the Kings proved to be a wagon that spring, the B’s somehow missed on what would have probably been the easiest path any team has had to a potential repeat as Cup champs. 

For a trophy that often seems impossible to win, taking yourself out of easier routes to the Cup should be maddening, and though it’s often spun this way, that frustration should never be eased by the idea that you lost to a team that has earned the right to be among the final four left standing. 

“We have a lot of work to do as an organization, still,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said of his team following their first-round exit. “We want to become a deeper, more talented team from top to bottom. Taking one step forward, in my opinion, is not successful. The commitment to winning in this organization, it’s the first thing that our core players who have won and have lifted the Stanley Cup, it’s the first thing they ask. They make sure the commitment, top to bottom, is there. Our younger players need to continue to understand that, and they need to grow.”

That growth and experience could have, and dare I say should, have come this spring had a few bounces gone their way, and the reality is that it won’t come with it instead experienced by the team that beat you.