By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
All good things must come to an end, and that’s what happened to the Bruins remarkable rebuilding on the fly 2017-18 campaign in a 3-1 Game 5 loss against the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon. And while some may feel the season that started shrouded in doubt and unclear expectations was cut short a little too soon, the promise for the future that shone through following a rough six-week start should be enough to carry B’s fans through the summer.
“If we’re gonna look back throughout the whole season, I think there is a lot that we can be proud of,” said the Bruins 41-year-old captain Zdeno Chara, who has been reborn with the 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy playing by his side. “There’s a lot that we can take from this and use as a positive. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be a playoff team. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be a 50-win team. And we were fighting for the first position in our conference.
“We went through some challenges and obstacles this season and we handled it very well. There’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to be looking forward to next season.”
Let’s face it, most B’s fans would have taken a two series run in the playoffs this season before the first puck drop on October 5th against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden. Anyone who isn’t lying will tell you that the trepidation surrounding the squad that barely made the playoffs last season – and was largely unchanged with the exception of an influx of inexperienced rookies – was overwhelming in September. And when you add in the number of injuries they had to key veterans early on, that trepidation was multiplied tenfold once the season started.
However, just like he did when he took over the helm from former Bruins head coach Claude Julien some 15 months ago, Bruce Cassidy seemingly knew every button to push to get the most out of his team. So much so, Cassidy’s kids came within one win of winning the Eastern Conference with a roster dotted with guys who need only shave once a week.
Is it disappointing? Yes, of course, especially after the Bruins looked like the best team in hockey for a four-month stretch from December to the end of March. Did the schedule affect the team – they essentially played every other day over the last six weeks of the season – causing both young and older legs to grow tired prior to the playoffs? Almost certainly, and following the Game 5 loss, Cassidy said so.
“Were we fatigued? Maybe a little bit,” said the Bruins brilliant bench boss. “But at the end of the day, I think those Game 7 experiences are going to be a benefit to this hockey club. You hoped it would be in this round, having gone through it.”
For as much as the second-round loss may sting many fans of the Black and Gold, the developments that took place should far outweigh any lingering disappointment. After getting a rich contract last summer, David Pastrnak lived up to every last dollar of it, knocking on the door of superstardom while making the Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Pastrnak line the best in hockey.
McAvoy’s play alongside an aging Chara showed that he is every bit the franchise in waiting defenseman that he was billed to be. Jake DeBrusk showed he is a top-six forward in the NHL, combining soft hands with a bit of the grit that kept his father in the league for 401 games before him.
Matt Grzelcyk earned his spot in the lineup on a nightly basis over veteran Adam McQuaid, at times – something that never would have likely happened under Julien. And despite being scratched from the final two games of the series with the Bolts, Danton Heinen finished fifth on the team in scoring with 47 points.
Losing is never easy, and this is the case with these before their time Bruins. And while missing/mysterious whistles from the guys in black and white striped jersey will leave some Boston fans steaming well into the summer, rest assured that come next September, this town will be buzzing about the burgeoning team in Black and Gold.