Young Bruins Will Benefit from Playoff Experience

Thursday, 05.15.2014 / 6:46 PM
Caryn Switaj  - BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - It may be too soon for any 'silver lining,' if we want to even call it that.

There's nothing hopeful or comforting about the fact that the Bruins' 2013-14 season came to an unhappy end.

On Friday, the Black & Gold are gathering for their season-ending media availability at TD Garden, before going their separate ways for a summer and offseason that is far too long for their liking.

There will be a lot of reflecting, from the players - the veterans and the young guns alike - and from the coach and general manager.

How did one of the most consistent seasons in franchise history end in disappointment? How did this group not find a way?

Those lingering questions likely kept them awake all Wednesday night, and will creep into their minds all throughout the summer, as they prepare for 2014-15.

It's important to stew over that frustration, but maybe more important, is the reaction to it.

Once the players part ways, and the questions are all answered, that's all they can do - react - by learning from it, taking the positives, getting better, moving on and coming back raring and ready to go.

When Bruins President Cam Neely joined 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday afternoon for his weekly "Felger & Mazz" call-in with Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti, he was asked what those positives were that he could take from the situation.

"Well, I think anytime you've got young players that play in this environment, playoff hockey, and get the experience, it's only going to make them better," said Neely.

Among those young players for the Bruins were Reilly Smith, making his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, along with Kevan Miller, Matt Fraser and Justin Florek. Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski all had limited postseason experience. Krug and Bartkowski were coming off their first full-time years in the NHL.

"And we have, as you pointed out, with Dougie, I thought the Detroit series I saw him elevate his game," Neely continued. "This is going to help Reilly Smith get better. This is going to help Fraser, who we didn't really have, I don't think, any thoughts that he'd be playing in the second round of the playoffs this year, but this is going to help him, getting that experience - same with Torey and Bartkowski. So, those are the positives you take."

It's the usual refrain after a team gets knocked out of the playoffs, that the experience gained will help the team down the road.

It's the refrain Head Coach Claude Julien gave, when his squad bested the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

"Not only do they have some good veterans player on their team, but they also have some good young players who no doubt grew, just like our young players have in the past through playoff experience like that," Julien had said, back on April 26, when playoff hopes were still alive on Causeway Street.

"It’s something you can’t buy. So there’s a lot of teams right now that would love to give their young players that opportunity."

On May 14, Julien was on the other side, saying the same of his own team.

"No doubt it’s a disappointing night for us, but at the same time I think our young guys this year did a great job of stepping in for some serious injuries to players, and had a real good season," said the bench boss, following the Game 7 loss at the hands of the Habs.

It's a shame that the Bruins didn't get to see their full potential with this 2013-14 group, especially after the regular season that they had. But, as the refrain goes, the younger players in Black & Gold will be be better players because of it.

It's the same way that Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic learned what playoff hockey is about. They learned it the hard way in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. They found out exactly what it takes in 2011.

"Experience" is the buzz word most used around this team in the Spoked-B. Well, the first-timers just gained a heckuva lot more of it.

"This was their first Game 7 experience, and you know, say what you want — it’s a lot different than a Game 5 or 6 and all of a sudden, if you don’t play well, there’s a lot of pressure and you've just got to hope that your young players will learn from that and go from there," said Julien.

"But those guys came in this year — when you lose [Dennis] Seidenberg, you lose one of your top two D’s and they come in and Bartkowski, Hamilton I thought was becoming a really good player for us. Bartkowski, Krug, those guys — Miller coming in in the middle of the season, never played an NHL game before. Give those guys credit — they did a great job of allowing us to have a good year."

That good year won't be solace for those players, but they can take a lesson from Neely in overcoming the disappointment.

"I mean, I look at - as the year that we had, it was a great regular season, and you win the Presidents' Trophy and then all of a sudden there's maybe a little bit more pressure and a little higher expectations, even though we had high expectations going into the year," Neely told "Felger & Mazz" on Thursday.

"There's still some areas where our guys can learn from losing. You've got to look at those lessons and say, ok we can learn from it, or we can crumble by them."

"So I think we've got a pretty strong group, that they'll take this experience - albeit it's a sour taste right now - but those young players I think are going to benefit from going through the playoffs and having a hard-fought series like we did against Montreal and going to a Game 7, and hopefully learning from it, and improving because of it."

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