Ultimately, in any professional sport, there will only be one team that is happy at the end of the postseason: the champions. That’s a given, but can we all agree that the Bruins really left something extra on the table by bowing out prematurely in a soul-crushing 3-1 loss to the Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Garden on Wednesday? The NHL’s best team in the regular season cruised through the first round, beating Detroit in five games before predictably struggling against their fiercest rival - Montreal - and blowing a 3-2 series lead by flat lining in Game 6 and getting off to a poor start in Game 7.
The Canadiens advance to face the Rangers in their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2010 as they look to capture their first Stanley Cup since 1993.
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“This is a really tough place to win so I’m proud of our players,” said Montreal head coach Michel Therrien. “Carey Price (29 saves) showed leadership, he’s calm and he competes. I thought that he was outstanding tonight.”
Boston put itself behind the eight ball right away as Dale Weise scored at 2:18 of the first period on yet another defensive breakdown by the Bruins. The team that scored first had won every game and that trend held in the most important contest of the season. It’s hard to explain how the Bruins came out so flat, on their home ice, with everything to play for. There are many things to dissect after such a bitter defeat like this but the easiest problem to diagnose for Boston was their lack of finishing, that’s what won the series for the Canadiens. The B’s would dominate zone time and possession of the puck but really not do that much with it. Conversely, Montreal would counterattack with speed and not miss the net when they had glorious chances while also taking better advantage of their power play opportunities.
Max Pacioretty’s goal midway through the second period, which turned out to be the game-winner, was a perfect example of why the Canadiens are moving on and the Bruins are going their separate ways for the summer. After Boston failed to clear the puck, David Desharnais passed to Pacioretty who roofed a one-timer over Tuukka Rask (15 saves). Juxtapose that with the countless times that Boston hit the post in the series (it reached double digits), missed open nets or shot it right at Price. Jarome Iginla’s tip in on a power play late in the second period gave the Bruins some life but they could never find the tying goal. Boston went down with one goal in its last 120 minutes of the season.
“You have to tip your hat to Montreal,” admitted Iginla, who had to be as disappointed as any Bruin after another season in his spectacular career ended without a Cup. “Price played well and our line wasn’t at our best which is always magnified at this time of the year.”
Boston is in very good shape next season and in the near future with their mix of young talent and solid veterans. Still, championship windows close for every great team which will make this setback sting for quite a while. Other than Game 5, the Bruins never really played up to their capabilities for whatever reason. Most credit goes to Montreal though, this wasn’t a fluke and the better team that controlled play for a majority of the series is moving on.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate