BOSTON — The refrain starts to sound similar from year to year.
“Amazing.” “Once in a lifetime.” “Words can’t describe.” Tears start to well up.
The Boston Marathon — and its 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton, Mass. into Boston — is one of a kind.
Each April, a group of about 30 runners band together to represent the Boston Bruins Foundation on the marathon route, proudly wearing the Spoked-B.
Some runners lace them up year after year. Others, like Shannon Crane, a Premium Client Service Rep at TD Garden, are first-timers.
The experience is nearly always the same, complete with awe-filled moments, that leave them with the same response.
“That was definitely a once in lifetime thing,” Crane burst out after crossing the famed finish line on Boylston Street in Boston and making her way through the crowd of thousands to find her family members.
BOSTON — The 2015-16 season clearly did not end how the Bruins would have liked.
That goes for everyone involved — the organization, general manager, head coach, players and fans. As such, the annual process has begun for both looking back at the disappointing end and dissecting the season, and then looking ahead to the future and what will need to be improved.
It’s the nature of the business, when the final result is not the ultimate prize.
On Thursday morning, General Manager Don Sweeney and Head Coach Claude Julien held their season-end press conference at TD Garden to field questions from reporters about the season.
“It’s a performance business, and this town’s been pretty successful in accumulating championships, and we expect to be doing the same thing,” said Sweeney, when asked about the criticism that comes along with the position that they’re in. “That’s the set of standards that we know going in. That’s what drives you, the passionate fanbase here.”
“You understand the criticism’s coming. The only real way to alleviate that is to get back on top, and you’re going to be subject to it until you do.”
“There’s just no easy battle,” said Sweeney. “You’ve got to choose the path that’s in front of you and if it’s bumpy, then you work through the bumps.”
The major bump for the 2015-16 Bruins was missing the postseason for the second straight year, with a playoff spot hanging on Game 82. One more regulation win, or one more point, would have made the difference for the Black & Gold.
As Zdeno Chara said during his season-end media availability on Monday, the team “is close, but close it not close enough.”
“I mean, we’ve seen the last two years, we missed the playoffs by a point, two points — we’re there, but obviously the commitment has got to be on a higher level,” Chara said. “The execution has to be on a higher level, and every individual has to be better in that area.”
The work continues for Sweeney and his staff, for Julien and his staff, for the players who will rest, recover and gear up for another season.
“October’s a long way away; we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Sweeney. “I understand it’s still on me to get this group back to acquiring and assembling players that can help our current group, and in support of what Claude believes in and his philosophies as a coach.”
Voicing confidence in Julien was one of Sweeney’s first orders of business during the press conference, as the first question asked by a reporter involved Julien’s status.
“I emphatically believe that Claude is the coach that can take us through what I’ll describe as what has been a bumpy transition period this year,” said Sweeney. “We’ve got work to do; I have work to do. There’s no question that. We have areas that we want to address and collectively we’ve already started to assess that. We did throughout the course of the year, we’ve tried to address some of those things, and we’ll continue to address them.”
Sweeney and Julien met for an extended period of time on Sunday morning to begin the assessment process. Monday saw the players go through exit physicals and speak with reporters. Tuesday served as a day of exit meetings with players. Julien and Sweeney spent Wednesday going back over everything, and Thursday served as the day to meet with the local media.
In capping the 2015-16 season, the Bruins ended the year fifth in scoring, as one of two teams with three 30-goal scorers in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson. On the flip side, they fell to 20th in goals against.
“You try to improve in all areas of your hockey club,” said Sweeney. “We had players that had been in our system and have done very well in our system. We had some injuries [on defense] early on, allowing that opportunity for some younger players that had been in our group who are going to continue to hopefully grow and be able to mature as NHL players.”
“You’re going to find that in almost every team. That eventually, you know, a player gets an opportunity and it’s up to him to continue to take advantage of that opportunity and sometimes it happens and you end up with a long career and sometimes it doesn’t, and then it’s incumbent upon me to make sure that I’m in a position where we have depth when we go through rough patches, or you go out and acquire players that can help you.”
“We have gaps in that area,” Sweeney continued. “We’re not a team that’s playing for the Stanley Cup. We clearly have areas that we need to improve upon.”
With Julien behind the bench for 2016-17, the structure will be in place.
“Eventually it falls on the players themselves to execute, because he has won and the players that he’s had have won,” said Sweeney. “Therefore, the players that we continue to identify have to come in and complement that.”
“At times, our group wasn't as galvanized defensively,” said Sweeney. “And again, there’s new player integration, there’s younger players — those are all areas that we need to address going forward. We started right in our exit interviews to address it with some of them to get them to understand, and there’s got to be a total buy-in.”
“Clearly the best players, when they have the types of years that they have — Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and March [Brad Marchand] in particular, they lead that charge and the other players have to fall in line with that.”
Apart from the structure of the Bruins’ game, Julien and Sweeney also addressed a theme that came up during the players’ season-end availability: inconsistency.
“I think it’s pretty obvious, that we failed on numerous occasions there when there were some big games,” said Julien. “We can go back to even the Winter Classic, you know, how we played in that game… there were some games that we failed to get what we needed.”
“And there were other games and right now it’s more, ‘how did we play so well against Detroit, and not be able to win that game against Ottawa?’ That’s where we failed, you know. Somehow, the consistency wasn’t there.”
“We thought we had a decent amount of consistency at one point, but then it slipped, and throughout the year, we lost some games that I really felt were important for us to win and we weren’t able to do that. So at the end of the day, you end up missing the playoffs by a real small margin and that’s where I think we failed, honestly.”
Before the Bruins’ five-game losing streak in mid-March, they had not lost more than three in a row all season. Three times, they lost three straight games — in October start the season, in early November, and then in late December.
The most difficult aspect of the season to assess is not necessarily their attack, or their defensive prowess, but the inability down the stretch to will themselves to important wins, even if they came close to getting the job done.
“Can we have a little more players that will galvanize when the heat comes in? Yes, no question about it,” said Sweeney. “And whether or not the younger players that we currently have will develop that is to be determined, and a lot of times you do have to experience it. It’s not fun when you do make that type of mistake and you have to grow from it and you feel like the pressure is on you. But hey, that's the business. You signed up for it and if you can’t do it, then it’s my job to make sure we find players that, and we grow players in that regard, that are capable of doing that.”
“Because that’s what it takes to win. Ultimately, that’s what it takes to win, and that’s what our fans expect; that’s what they identify with, so we need to make damn sure that we act accordingly going forward.”
“We have players that have significantly invested in this organization long-term and had a lot of success,” said Sweeney. “They have been emphatic that they’d like to climb the mountain again and that’s a good testament.”
“Sometimes when you get there, you’ve climbed it once and you don’t want to go back. Other people are like, ‘sign me up,’ and that’s what we need more of. We need more players that when they get to the line, that they know how hard the climb is, they’ve experienced it… and we have a good group of core guys that have done that. And the rest of the guys need to either jump on board and become and grow and want to do that, or they won’t be here.”
“From an organizational standpoint, that’s what I stand for. That’s part of the reason why I was hired. I’m driven that way. I want players that are internally driven. You can be externally motivated; believe me, there are a lot of good things about this game that can motivate you. But, boy oh boy, you better be internally driven in order to have success in this league.”
From the front office, down to the players and the organization, that drive is what will need to propel the Bruins forward.
“I’m not any less driven in terms of finding the fixes, excited about knowing we have a coach that can lead us through what I still consider a transition period, and being very, very excited about what lies in front of us,” said Sweeney. “With the players we have and the core of our group, and how driven they are.”
BOSTON — General Manager Don Sweeney and Head Coach Claude Julien held their annual season-end press conference on Thursday morning at TD Garden.
The first question fielded by Sweeney from a reporter was if Julien would be returning as head coach.
Sweeney's response? “Absolutely.”
“I emphatically believe that Claude is the coach that can take us through what I’ll describe as what has been a bumpy transition period this year,” said Sweeney. “And we’ve got work to do. I have work to do.”
“There’s no question that we have areas that we want to address and collectively, we’ve already started to assess that. We did throughout the course of the year, we’ve tried to address some of those things, and we’ll continue to address them.”
Julien will be returning for his 10th season behind the Bruins bench in 2016-17.
“I believe in Claude as a coach,” said Sweeney. “I think our core principles align very well from the defensive structure of the team, as well as what we see in individual players.”
BOSTON — When the Bruins gathered for their season-ending media availability on Monday morning at TD Garden, they were asked by reporters to try to analyze and dissect the 2015-16 season.
Where did it go wrong? Can you pinpoint a reason? How surprising is it to miss the playoffs?
The players all attempted to answer the questions as best as they could.
Other questions always come up during this time as well, about the players’ health and any injuries they’ll have to take care of in the offseason.
One such update came from David Krejci.
“I knew this question was going to come up,” Krejci said, when asked about his health. “I’m going to need surgery on my hip.”
“It’s been bothering me for 20 or so games. But we have a good medical staff here and they got me through games, so I still felt like I was in decent shape to play games and there’s been games where I thought I felt pretty good, so I was able to finish the season and I was even ready to play in the playoffs.”
BOSTON — As is customary at the end of every season, the Black & Gold all gathered at TD Garden on Monday morning to wrap up 2015-16 and speak with reporters.
Unless the season ends with winning it all, the players who filter in and out of the Bruins’ locker room are still disappointed, frustrated and in disbelief that they won’t be suiting up in the Spoked-B for another five to six months.
“No doubt, that was very emotional,” Captain Zdeno Chara said of Saturday’s defeat to Ottawa. “I’m still very upset about the situation, and yeah, it’s going to be there for a while.”
“Obviously, it’s a situation that I hate to be in, and I think we all hate to be in.”
BOSTON — In the Bruins’ locker room, they were still holding out hope — whatever ounce of it was left.
“Obviously we put ourselves in the worst position possible, but hopefully it works out for us,” Brad Marchand lamented on Saturday afternoon, following his team’s 6-1 loss to Ottawa at TD Garden.
At that point, the Philadelphia Flyers were still playing the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Right now all we can do is cross our fingers and almost hope for a miracle, that’s all that’s left for us, so it's totally out of our hands now,” said Head Coach Claude Julien.
For the first time all season, after Game 82, the Bruins no longer had control. Their playoff hopes were in the Flyers’ hands — and the Flyers didn’t hold on all too tight. With a 3-1 win over the Pens, they dashed any chance Boston had at redemption.
Had Philadelphia lost in regulation, or even garnered just a point, the Bruins would have held out hope for one more day, until Philadelphia’s final game on Sunday night.
Instead, the Bruins now find themselves out of the postseason for the second straight year.
“There’s no excuse for that,” David Krejci said following the game. “We are professionals and we should get up for every single game, no matter what kind of game it is in the season — Game 1 or Game 82, we should get up the same way for every single game.”
CHICAGO, Ill. — The Bruins still control their playoff situation, with just three games left in the regular season.
That’s the focus now for the Black & Gold, who were heading home after a 6-4 loss in Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
“Win our last three games, and we’re in the playoffs,” Torey Krug said postgame from the United Center. “We know that. We know what’s at stake. You’ve got to take them one game at a time.”
“I think last year, we got caught up looking a little bit too far ahead of ourselves, but it’s a different story this year. We’re going to take it one game at a time, learn from everything that’s happened so far.”
The Bruins will next host the Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators at TD Garden on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. If they win all three, no matter what Detroit does in its other two games, they’re through to the postseason.
The Red Wings sit one point above them in the standings (91 to the Bruins’ 90). They host the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night in an 8:00 p.m. matchup, before playing in Boston the next night, and then finishing the season in New York against the Rangers on Saturday.
For the Black & Gold, it still comes down to taking care of their own business.
CHICAGO, Ill. — The Bruins face another tough test on Sunday, when they close out their two-game road trip against the Blackhawks.
Game time is set for 11:30 a.m. local time on NBC (12:30 ET).
“A big game, we’ve known that coming into it,” said Torey Krug. “These games down the stretch mean a lot obviously and it’s a good test for us. I think we’re ready for a big matchup, and hopefully we respond.”
The Bruins hit the ice for practice on Saturday afternoon at Johnny’s IceHouse in Chicago, after arriving late Friday night from St. Louis.
With their 6-5 win over the Blues on Friday, the Bruins managed to stay third in the Atlantic Division at 90 points.
Detroit picked up a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild to stay one point back of the Bruins. The Red Wings are right back in action on Saturday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
ST. LOUIS — By the time the puck had dropped in St. Louis on Friday night, the Bruins were tired of answering questions — about their desperation, their commitment, their missed chances and inability to finish.
They entered the night 1-6-0 in their past seven games. The Blues were coming in on a five-game win streak, during which they had collectively allowed just one goal. They also had run going of 11 wins in 13 games. Brian Elliott had won straight nine straight game between the pipes for St. Louis.
The task seemed daunting, but the Bruins were up for it — until the final buzzer.
At the end of 60 minutes, they had earned themselves a 6-5 win over the Blues, and a huge two points. With the victory, they stayed third in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of the Red Wings, who earned a 3-2 win over the Wild.
Patrice Bergeron fired in the game-winner late in the third on the power play to reach his third 30-goal season.
“I’m happy I was able to to get it, but at the same time, was definitely more happy to get that extra goal and ultimately it ended up being the extra goal that we needed,” Bergeron said postgame. “So I was happy for that.”
Seidenberg and Connolly missed their second straight practice on Thursday with undisclosed situations when the Bruins convened at Ristuccia Arena. Connolly did not play during the final two periods in New Jersey on Tuesday night.
Spooner and Krejci rejoined the group on Thursday after being absent from Wednesday’s practice.
“Obviously you like to be 100 percent in games, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Krejci said. “So, felt really good today and ready to go for [Friday].
The Bruins’ two-game road trip will have them facing the Blues on Friday night in St. Louis, and then the Blackhawks on Sunday in Chicago.