Experience proves irrelevant for Bruins in first round of playoffs
|04.26.12 at 2:14 am ET|
In the days leading up to the decisive Game 7 between the Bruins and Capitals, there was a plethora of talk about experience — mainly that the Bruins had it and were thus the favorites while the Capitals did not.
A quick look at the history books reflects that attitude. The Capitals were 1-3 in Game 7s since 2008 while the Bruins were 3-3, and the Bruins won all three of those Game 7s last season en route to their Stanley Cup championship. According to the history books, the Bruins had a better idea of how to win Game 7 than the Capitals did.
But even a cursory glance at the Bruins’ supposed experience revealed how much the Bruins were lacking in that area. In 2011, Nathan Horton had two of the Game 7 game-winning goals, and Patrice Bergeron had one. In 2012, Horton was not in the lineup, as he missed the playoffs with a concussion. Bergeron was limited in Game 7 by an undisclosed injury that prevented him from taking faceoffs and slowed him somewhat from the relatively healthy player he was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
In the end, long-term experience did not benefit the Bruins, as they bowed out of the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals. Instead, it was more short-term experience, the experience gained from the other six games of the series and the games leading up to the playoffs, that provided a more accurate view of how Game 7 would go.
Throughout the series, the Capitals consistently beat the Bruins in blocked shots and faceoffs, small details that often reflect the strength of a team’s focus and desire. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, but the quality of each team’s scoring chances remained similar. Boston’s key players like David Krejci and Milan Lucic continued to be quiet while the load fell to players like Andrew Ference, who was 12th on the team in scoring during the regular season and the second-leading scorer in the postseason.
‘At the end of the day when you look at your team, your team wasn’t playing its best hockey in this series,’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ‘Before this day started, you just hoped that you would get through this Game 7 and pick some momentum up as you moved forward in the playoffs.’
The Capitals already had their momentum before the playoffs. Washington did not clinch a playoff spot until the penultimate game of the season, and it had to fight hard for every victory. The Capitals went 13-9 in their last 22 games of the regular season, and eight of those 22 games were decided in overtime or by a shootout while 16 of the 22 games were decided by two goals or less.
In contrast, the Bruins went 12-10 in their last 22 games. Four of those games were decided in overtime or by a shootout, equaling the total of overtime games in the first round series of the playoffs.
‘We’ve felt like it was playoff hockey for the last 30 games to make sure we get in the playoffs,’ Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. ‘It wasn’t like we had to throw on a switch and start playing again in the playoffs, start playing a different way.’
The Bruins did have to start playing differently in the playoffs. Like many teams, the Bruins rested key and injured players after clinching a berth in order to be fresh for the postseason.
The epitome of inexperience in the series was Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, and he also proved that a lengthier resume does not always lead to success. With seven postseason starts, Holtby equaled the amount of starts he made during the season for the Capitals. Although the Bruins did not necessarily test him thoroughly, he still earned a .940 save percentage in the postseason, which was better than the very experienced Tim Thomas‘s .923 save percentage.
‘I was saying before we even came into the playoffs that it was good for this team to have a race to get into the playoffs,’ Holtby said. ‘It really made us buckle down and not take things for granted, and that was a big thing.’
Now, perhaps because of that experience gained in the race to make the playoffs, it is the Capitals, not the Bruins, who have kept alive their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.