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Jarring end left Bruins numb

Playoffs one big painful memory

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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When David Krejci lost the feeling in his right arm following Mike Richards’s locomotive-like blast in Game 3 of the Bruins-Flyers series, he hoped it was a temporary sensation.

“It sometimes happens that when you get hit, you go on the bench and sometimes you don’t feel your body for a little bit, but then it goes away and you’re fine,’’ Krejci said. “I couldn’t feel my arm, but I iced it and tried to wait on what’s going to happen. It just didn’t go away.’’

Krejci suffered a dislocated right wrist, prompting surgery that night that has left him wearing a cast that he needs to keep on for two more weeks. The Bruins would win Game 3, but Krejci’s loss was one of the big reasons why they collapsed in the next four games and whimpered out of the playoffs to become one of the biggest punch lines in NHL history.

“I’ll tell you what, when I saw Krech go down, when I saw Richards take him down, I was worried,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “But there are a lot of other defining moments. When you go through a series like that, there tends to be more than one defining moment. Usually there’s four.’’

Those four straight losses had the Bruins gathering at TD Garden yesterday for exit interviews instead of preparing for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal — an opportunity they had four cracks at securing.

“It’s still tough to realize,’’ said Patrice Bergeron. “Especially after Game 7, the way it ended, it’s just unbelievable. It’s hard to believe. But after a couple days, it’s sunk in a little bit more. I guess it really happened.’’

The departure of Krejci left the Bruins without their most offensive-minded center. Krejci had been centering Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan on the No. 2 line. He also had been manning the left-side half-boards on the first power-play unit, killing penalties with Blake Wheeler, and taking important faceoffs in all three zones (winning 50 percent in the playoffs).

Compounding Krejci’s loss was the play of Marc Savard, who, in retrospect, didn’t have enough time to reclaim his game following the Grade 2 concussion he suffered March 7. Savard was the overtime hero in Game 1 of the Philadelphia series, the first time he dressed since being knocked out by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke.

There were few other highlights for Savard (1-2—3 in seven games). He was a major player in the too-many-men debacle in Game 7 against the Flyers, slow to get off the ice before Vladimir Sobotka took his spot. In Game 6, Savard high-sticked Kimmo Timonen, a penalty that was followed by Daniel Paille’s elbowing call, which led to Danny Briere’s four-on-three game-winning goal.

Consider the case of Bergeron, who never played again in 2007-08 after absorbing a Grade 3 concussion on Oct 27 of that season. In 2008-09, Bergeron (8-31—39 in 64 games) was mostly a defense-first player, slow to unearth his offensive touch, especially after suffering a second concussion on Dec. 20, 2008.

For Savard, being sidelined for nearly two months was too much to overcome.

“When Krech got hurt, that was tougher on me,’’ said Savard. “I had to play extra minutes. My mind wanted to. My body just couldn’t keep up right now. I was on the couch for seven weeks straight. I never had that state where you don’t do anything, then try to do something.’’

The shortcomings at center, combined with the return of Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne in Game 4, shifted the series in the Flyers’ favor; not only did they welcome back a top-line winger who scored winning goals in Games 4 and 7, but they also enjoyed more balance among their top-six forwards when the veteran stepped in.

The Bruins should have won the round, considering their 3-0 series lead and their 3-0 advantage in Game 7.

Ultimately, however, the Flyers were the better team and deserved to move on. They leaned heavily on their top four defensemen, particularly Chris Pronger, who proceeded to block shots, thump bodies, and prevent the Bruins from sustaining repeated offensive flurries. Richards was a dominant go-to forward, something the Bruins never had. Briere was a second-line threat.

Even the third line of James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, and Arron Asham created multiple scoring chances. In comparison, the Bruins’ third line of Daniel Paille, Sobotka, and Michael Ryder in Game 7 couldn’t solve the Flyers in even-strength situations.

“They gained momentum as the series went on,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Let’s not kid ourselves. We lost a couple players. It’s not about making excuses. It’s reality. We lost a couple players. [Marco] Sturm and Krejci played on our top two lines. So everybody has to move up.

“They gained one, which put some of their good players down a notch. I think there was a momentum change a little bit there.

“We had to find a way to win that final game. That’s where we can’t use that as an excuse, because we had four opportunities to win one game and we didn’t accomplish that. This is where we have to take that responsibility.’’

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of 2009-10 — which featured a slow start, a 10-game winless streak in January and February, the punch-drunk offense, the second-round flameout — was the fact that character, or lack of it, played into the Bruins’ demise. While 2008-09 may have set expectations too high for this season, there were too many valleys for the Bruins’ liking. Too many down years for individual players. Not enough desperation when called for.

“The variance between the ups and downs was too much,’’ said Chiarelli. “We will look to make some changes.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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