The Bruins ended their 2015-16 season similar to how their 2014-15 campaign ended, disappointing play down the stretch and a lackluster finish that ultimately forced the team to miss the playoffs. Over the next several weeks and months, fans will get a clear idea on where the team is heading regarding both coaching and player personnel. Some big changes could be coming after a second straight disappointing season, but what exactly those changes are remains to be seen.
For the moment though, here’s a look back on four very winnable games that could have changed the outcome of the Bruins season had they gone in favor of the black and gold. Obviously, there are games that the Bruins won that they very well could have lost throughout the season, but these four also highlight some of the consistent and underlying issues that kept Boston out of the postseason.
December 4, 2015 at Calgary. In the middle of a Pacific Northwest road trip and two days after losing in a shootout at Edmonton, the Bruins faced off against the Flames. Jonas Gustavsson got the start in net but was pulled after allowing three goals on eleven shots. That third Flames goal came early in the second period but was followed 26 seconds later by a Zdeno Chara goal to tie the game. Tuukka Rask was inserted into the game and the score stayed the same until late in the third period. Calgary was awarded a power play with only a few minutes to play, but it ended up benefitting Boston. Brad Marchand was awarded a penalty shot after a short-handed breakaway and scored to put the Bruins up 4-3 with 1:06 to play. The Bruins could not hold the lead and gave up the tying goal to Jiri Hudler with 1.2 seconds left to tie the game. The electric Johnny Gaudreau won the game for the Flames in overtime with his third goal of the game. To add insult to injury, it was former Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton who helped set up the game winner. Had the Bruins been able to hang on for 1.6 more seconds in regulation, they would have avoided that disappointment and gained an extra point.
February 14, 2016 at Detroit. Valentine’s Day 2016 did not come up roses for the Bruins, although it started off well. Boston scored three goals in the first 13 minutes to take a 3-1 lead on the road. Pavel Datsyuk scored late in the first on the power play to make it 3-2, but the Bruins still went into the dressing room with the lead. The wheels came off in the second period for the black and gold as Detroit got two goals from Darren Helm and another from Datsyuk to take a 5-3 lead. Dennis Seidenberg provided an answer goal, but Boston had gone from a 3-1 lead to a 5-4 deficit heading into the third. Joonas Kemppainen potted a short-handed score in the first minute of the third to tie the game and give the Bruins a shot at a victory. Unfortunately for Boston, the next and final goal of the game was scored by Danny Dekeyser and the Red Wings held on for a 6-5 win in regulation. It was another case of the Bruins blowing a lead in a winnable game, which could have made the difference long term.
March 15, 2016 at San Jose. It was no secret that the Bruins were going to have a tough time on their west coast road trip in March. Going on the road against three good teams in a row (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim) that had given the Bruins trouble earlier in the year had even the most optimistic folks in the hub of hockey hoping to avoid a sweep. The best chance the team had was in the opening game against San Jose. Boston entered the game having gotten points in their previous six games and they took a 2-1 first period lead thanks to goals by Loui Eriksson and David Krejci. The Sharks tied the game in the second period on a Brent Burns goal and took a 3-2 lead in the third on a Joonas Donskoi goal. In the final minutes, the Bruins had a golden opportunity to tie the game and get at least a point out of the contest. Krejci burst through the neutral zone and got behind the Sharks on a breakaway. He beat the goaltender, but hit the post and came up empty. Torey Krug also had an opportunity before the final horn, but his bid was turned away. The Bruins squandered not only a first period lead, but also several opportunities in the third to tie the game and start their road trip off with valuable points.
April 5, 2016 at home vs Carolina. The two losses in the final week of the season kept the Bruins out of the playoff, but it was the first one, against the Hurricanes, that slipped through their hands. The Bruins skated onto the ice last Tuesday facing a team already out of the playoffs and played uninspired hockey for much of the affair. They fell behind 1-0 and had spotty play throughout. Despite this, the Bruins tied the game early in the third period on a goal by Eriksson, and picked up one point after the game was forced to go into overtime. The Bruins had chances in overtime, but neither team was able to end the game and the contest headed for a shootout. Shootouts haven’t exactly been a strong point for the Bruins and they failed again here. Neither team scored in the shootout until Noah Hanifin, a player the Bruins attempted to trade up for in the June 2015 entry draft, got one past Rask for the win. The most questionable decision of the night was Claude Julien electing to have Torey Krug shoot fifth in the lineup. Instead of Krug, the Bruins could have used Brad Marchand, their best scorer, David Krejci, an offensive playmaker, or Frank Vatrano, a dazzling young player who finally got his chance with Boston late in the season. Krug had shootout success in the past, but opting for him instead of any of those other three, especially the team leader in goals, Marchand, was questionable. This writer is not in the “fire Claude” camp, but that move deserves to be second guessed.
In an 82 game season, there will be highs and lows for any hockey team. For the Boston Bruins this season, the lows came around more often than the highs and ultimately kept them out of the playoffs for the second straight season. There is no guarantee that winning these four games would have completely altered the trajectory of their season, but had the result been different in one or more of them, the Bruins very well could be preparing for the playoffs right now instead of cleaning out their lockers.