Injuries to the blueline caught up with Bruins in the end
|05.15.09 at 7:57 am ET|
There will be countless items that can be looked at and harped on when attempting to decipher exactly what went wrong for the Bruins during their 11-game playoff run.
So there’s that.
Blake Wheeler was a consistent performer during his rookie season and finished the regular season as a 20-goal scorer, but he was held scoreless and outplayed — and subsequently replaced in the lineup — by Byron Bitz during the playoffs.
The possibility that the Bruins underestimated their Carolina opponent is also a distinct reality.
But the real nuts and bolts reason for the demise of Boston’s season is pretty simple. The B’s couldn’t find a way to consistently, cleanly solve the Hurricanes forecheck for long stretches of their playoff series, and thus couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and get their offense going. That problem lies squarely with the Bruins defenseman corps once you get past the top three of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward.
“I think it took awhile to get going for sure. We can’t when we’ve got pressure…we’re throwing the puck through a lot of times,” said Marc Savard. “I don’t know if we ever really got that comfortable out there as a whole team. I mean it’s upsetting now. You know, we stuck together through thick and thin. But, like I said, for it to end like this, it’s tough.”
Steve Montador is an excellent person and a big supporter of Right To Play, but the well-traveled defenseman simply wasn’t good enough to fill a role as a puck-moving defenseman — and was a major liability while soaking up 29:30 minutes of ice time along Boston’s backline in the pivotal Game 7 loss. The veteran blueliner, in a move that didn’t exactly scream out playoff-style conservatism, pinched to keep a puck in the offensive zone during the second period.
But Montador couldn’t keep it in the zone and the old Russian pocket rocket made him pay.
The little move of offensive aggression was just enough space for Sergei Samsonov to get behind a covering Michael Ryder, and the heady Russian winger moved right toward the Boston cage. Joni Pitkanen slid a pass to the front of the net with Samsonov bearing down on Thomas, and he cleanly beat Ryder to the loose puck. With Montador lagging behind and away from the all-important cage, Samsonov flipped a puck past Thomas to give Carolina a 2-1 lead.
It’s easy to brush off the important rookie Matt Hunwick and veteran Andrew Ference, and their overall importance to the Boston hockey club. But the absence of their puck-moving, offensive skills left a huge void on the Spoked B defenseman corps once forechecking opponents really attacked behind the Boston cage. Anytime the Boston skaters were complimenting on Carolina’s great “team speed”, it was all about the tireless attackers that the Hurricanes just kept sending skaters behind the net on kamikaze missions.
Hunwick had nearly 30 points as a rookie with the Bruins this season, and was a speedy, energetic, offensive-minded difference-maker at the end of the regular season. He ended the season as the third-leading scorer amongst Boston defenseman during the regular campaign, and was sorely missed after he left the lineup with a ruptured spleen suffered against the Habs.
“Munch” even hopped on to the top power play unit as one of the points on the top unit toward the end of the year, and the move immediately paid dividends for a man advantage unit that struggled at the end of the regular season — just as they did in the playoffs against Carolina.
When Ference is healthy, he’s also another skater that can use his mobility, creativity and offensive instincts to make the opposition pay with good passes if they’re too aggressive with the forecheck. Instead, both Ference and Hunwick were gone with injuries and the B’s were left with far too many tentative, mistake-prone defenseman that simply couldn’t make the Canes pay for their aggressive forecheck.
Things could have been different had Hunwick and Ference been able to play. It’s a refrain you’ll no doubt hear quite a bit this summer as the Bruins get ready for golf season.