When the Bruins decided to let Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara walk this past offseason, they were gambling on their young defensive core.
A risky investment it was.
The gamble was a roller coaster of a ride, hitting many ups and downs from start to finish. In the end, an alternate ending to the one the Bruins were seeking.
General manager Don Sweeney’s roll of the dice, opting to give the organization’s youth a shot on the blueline from the start of the season proved to be a big swing and miss.
Look no further than Game 6 where the Bruins puck mismanagement was on full display.
Without Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller the Bruins defensive depth was tested in their second-round series with the Islanders, a test they ultimately failed.
“Our backend got thin and it was a challenge for them, specifically tonight and parts of Game 5,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy.
“Some of that was personnel driven back there where we lost key guys and our penalty kill became a factor in Game 5. Tonight, didn’t manage the puck very well and some of it was by guys that play a lot for us, but it caught up to us.”
The Bruins defensive effort was downright embarrassing, showing the Bruins young d-core is nowhere near ready for the bright lights of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the pressure of an elimination game.
Even Matt Grzelcyk, he of 234 career regular season games and now 54 playoff games, looked like the pressure of the situation was too much to handle, coughing up two pucks in the defensive zone, directly leading to a pair of Islanders goals.
“We mismanaged pucks. You don’t want to call them gifts, but that was on us to manage the puck better in those situations,” said Cassidy. “It was just us not managing the puck well enough to beat a team that pressures the puck well.”
Credit the Islanders for what they did to make life miserable for the Bruins.
Their forecheck was ferocious and it felt like every mistake the Bruins made in their own zone—and there were many—ended up in the back of their net, or pretty close to it.
And when the Islanders weren’t picking Grzelcyk's pockets or forcing an errant pass with immense pressure on any Bruin who touched a puck, looking for an easy zone exit, they made sure whichever Bruins defenseman retrieving the puck behind the net paid the price for it.
Of course injuries are not predictable, you hope to have a full calvary for your playoff run. More often than not, things don’t play out that way.
You need depth to win in the playoffs, and I’m not just talking about depth throughout your four forward lines and three d-pairs—although that type of depth quickly disappeared in the second-round.
You need those 13th and 14th forwards or seventh and eighth defenseman to step in when needed and perform well enough to give you a chance.
The Bruins got that at times, but certainly not for long enough stretches to change the course of the series or even a single game inside it.
Jarred Tinordi is a perfect seventh or eighth defenseman. When you need him to fill a gap for a game or two, he’s a fine option. But once you need him to play night in and night out for you, he’s not quite the guy you want logging 15 minutes a game.
It's where your lack of depth gets you in trouble a bit.
Connor Clifton is your ideal sixth defenseman, but is he who you want forced into a bigger role in the playoffs, playing nearly 18 minutes a game?
Two instances of the losses of Carlo and Miller having a bigger effect on the team than it originally seemed.
“They’re valuable parts of our defense, that’s no secret,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Great players that play a heavy game and play a lot of minutes.”
As the series moved along, the Bruins seemingly got worse defensively, hitting their peak ugliness in Game 6, and with it, the end of the series and the end of their season.
Inexperience aside, the Bruins inability to move Islanders bodies from the front of the ice was a troublesome trend in the series.
Ultimately, one of the driving forces behind why the Bruins were unable to extend the series to a winner-take-all Game 7 Friday night in Boston.
Getting to high-danger scoring areas is supposed to be difficult, it wasn’t for the Islanders. When they wanted to get there, they did so and found immediate success.
The Bruins couldn’t do anything about it.
The Islanders finished the series with 11 high-danger goals, the Bruins 7.
Some of that was the Islanders ability to cash in on their opportunities, some of it the Bruins inability to do the same.
Some of that was also Semyon Varlamov making big saves when he needed to, Tuukka Rask not as often.
“We mismanaged pucks and put him [Rask] in a bad spot,” said Cassidy. “This is a team loss to me, all the way down the line.”
It’s another disappointing ending to a once fruitful season. The Bruins window is quickly closing, if, not already closed.
But this one stings the Bruins a little worse. The issues that plagued them in years past disappeared in their first-round series with the Capitals.
For a series, we were led to believe this was a different Bruins team.
They got great goaltending, their defense was excellent, and secondary scoring was alive and well, led by the revamped second line, buzzing off the addition of Taylor Hall.
For most of the Islanders series, and very much so in Games 5 and 6, the Bruins lost much of that.
“We felt like we had a group that could go really deep this year. I think it just came down to a couple of breaks, they capitalized on a few opportunities that they got and we didn’t on the other end,” said Brad Marchand who scored both Bruins goals in Game 6.
“There were some games where we really outplayed them and came up short, but that’s playoffs.”
Unrestricted free agents are Rask and David Krejci, two key pieces to the Bruins core. What decisions the Bruins make with the two very well may indicate how the organization feels about that window and whether or not they feel it has closed.