Boston Bruins

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

Even if the Bruins somehow overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in their franchise’s 94-year history, there was no chance that they were going to even compete with the Capitals or Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. No chance.

Haunted by their inability to close out their first-round series with the Maple Leafs earlier than the seven games it ultimately required, the Bruins would have been marching into the third round after back-to-back seven-game wars. And just to get there, the Bruins would have needed to exhaust all possible energy — and then some — to dump the East-best Lightning.

And I felt that way before the Bruins released their lengthy list of those that were playing at far less than 100 percent.

But that list, dropped one-by-one at break-up day media availability at Warrior Ice Arena, only serves as the confirmation that this year’s Bruins squad, while undoubtedly appearing to possess almost every single quality you want out of a legitimately contending threat, was not fit to lift the Stanley Cup this spring. Not that their bodies would have allowed it.

Now, if you had asked me in late March, I would have told you that the Bruins were my Stanley Cup favorite. I even wrote as much back then. This was a Bruins team that was truly battle-tested, deep, and healthy.

But once that health gradually faded out of frame this postseason, those other qualities went with it.

And in the NHL, these things can flip quickly, especially when the style of play shifts to near prison rules as it often does in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (I have nothing to back this up, but give me a radar gun and I’ll prove that dudes finish their checks at least 15 miles per hour faster in the postseason than they do in the regular season.)

The Bruins were not the only team to deal with injuries in the playoffs, though, and writing this off as the sole reason why they came up short in the second round would be some prime excuse-making that belittles a Tampa Bay wagon they ran into.

“I think we all know that there’s a lot of things going on and it’s a long year, and playoffs are the same thing,” B’s center Patrice Bergeron acknowledged. “Guys are battling through hard things, but we’re no different than any other team, whether it’s us or the four teams remaining right now, but everyone’s kind of dealing with some issues…and that’s just the way it is.”

Bergeron’s right; I’m sure we’re gonna hear about some Vegas psychopath playing through a torn ACL or Ryan Callahan finishing the postseason with rabies thanks to the lick his teeth received from the Bruins’ Brad Marchand in Game 4.

Hockey players have forever told us that they’re willing to do almost anything to have their name on the Stanley Cup.

But the Bruins did not have an answer for Bergeron missing time and playing at less than 100 percent due to concussion-like symptoms in round one and a year-long groin injury. Especially not when the Bruins’ store brand of Bergeron, Riley Nash, was dealing with similar ailments, including a groin injury that had been bothering him since February. Nor did they turn out to have a suitable replacement capable of scoring Jake DeBrusk’s timely goals, which came to a crashing halt as a sprained AC joint eventually and unfortunately slowed the lively DeBrusk into irrelevance by the end of the second round.

Defenseman Torey Krug, who at the time of his injury was the postseason’s top scorer among defensemen, would not have returned had the Bruins pulled off the second-round comeback thanks to his fractured ankle requiring two months in a walking boot. Winger David Backes, the recipient of what was likely a concussion in Game 5, might have been ready for the third round, but even he’s not sure if that timeline would have worked given his history. Noel Acciari had been playing through a sports hernia suffered in November, and Tuukka Rask conducted his final media availability with a swollen ankle.

And Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who totaled 283:06 in 12 postseason games (the 10th-most among all postseason skaters entering today), was dealing with a ‘split bone’ in his finger, according to The Athletic’s Joe McDonald. Oh, and this is where I’d like to remind you all that the 41-year-old Chara, holding his stick with three fingers, held the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos to just one five-on-five goal in one-on-one matchups this postseason.

Imagine the remnants of this team going against the Capitals, Golden Knights, and Jets/Predators — and with the intensity ramping up round by round while the injuries worsen — and it’s not hard to figure out how this would have ended for the B’s.

Injuries will always be looked upon as an excuse, but this didn’t feel like the missed opportunity of 2012 or 2014, when dominant Boston teams just plain underperformed — and in weakened playoff fields, no less. The end was obviously coming for the Bruins, whether that was in Tampa Bay this past Sunday against what we all have to agree was a deeper Bolts squad, in D.C. against a Capitals team that’s routinely owned a healthy Boston team, or under Vegas lights.

“We all play through different things,” Chara said Wednesday. “I’m not going to be making excuses or talking about injuries.

“We all play through some bumps and bruises.”

But those bumps and bruises are something that the Bruins — particularly the organization’s young players continuing to develop and learn what this league requires and demands for success this time of year — will be better off for having gone through in a league where players often have to lose before they can truly win hockey’s ultimate prize.

“It was something I had to learn to go through. I played lots of playoffs growing up, but not at this level, especially with that amount of pain,” DeBrusk admitted. “It felt like I couldn’t really do too, too much out there, but at the same time, I wasn’t getting out of the lineup. I believed I could help the team win. It just kind of sucks that we couldn’t pull it through, but at the same time, it was a good learning experience for me to understand what guys go through, because I’m not the only one.”

DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins’ young guns will probably have similar bumps and bruises this time next year, too.

But with the expectation that they’re coming — and with a higher tolerance — it’s then that it may truly be the B’s time to win.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.