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Harris: Younger Bruins gain valuable postseason experience

April 24, 2017 GMT

Story No. 1 of this first-round series was the Bruins’ efforts to deal with Ottawa’s smothering neutral-zone checking, which troubled them in each game although they generally learned to deal with it fairly well.

Story No. 2 had to be the adversity, the unfortunate events outside the standard ebb and flow of the game that can change things so dramatically.

The Bruins, many of them youngsters getting their first taste of the NHL postseason, learned an awful lot during the past two weeks.

In the end, it was just such a factor — a minor penalty called on third-year forward David Pastrnak early in overtime — that helped to decide the series. Veteran winger Clarke MacArthur swatted a rebound into the net 6:30 into overtime of Game 6 to give Ottawa a 3-2 victory, and bring a sudden end to this best-of-seven series.

“It’s definitely tough,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said of the late penalties that led, at least indirectly, to his team’s demise in Games 2, 3 and 6. “It seems like we had a lot (of calls) on our side late in games and in overtime.”

Bergeron made the key play that sent the Bruins into overtime as he tapped in his own rebound at 1:57 of the third period to knot the score, 2-2. The B’s played a very strong third period, outshooting the Sens, 12-3, and had chances to win in regulation, which would have forced a Game 7 on Wednesday in Ottawa.

But as was the case so frequently during the series, the B’s couldn’t take advantage of a load of quality scoring chances.

So it was decided, of course, by a penalty call.

“It’s playoff hockey, (and) adversity is something you have to stick with,” Bergeron said. “You have to keep fighting, keep battling, I thought we showed a lot of character, to get back in games. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves by any means — with a lot of penalties, whether it was late in games or in overtimes. It seems like it’s been like that a lot during the season. It’s definitely tough.”

Unlike with some calls earlier in the series, there were no complaints in the Bruins camp about the call on Pastrnak, who pretty much yanked MacArthur down to the ice. Neither was anyone critical of Pastrnak for taking the penalty.

“You’re trying to play hard in overtime, you’re trying to stay with it and keep battling,” Bergeron said. “Sometimes (an infraction is) going to happen. Bottom line is we have to do the job on the penalty kill.”

Of course, the Bruins faced 23 Ottawa power plays, while enjoying only 16 of their own. The Sens had a 5-2 edge yesterday, which put added stress on the Bruins’ penalty-killers as the afternoon wore on.

“You can’t ask that much,” Bergeron said. “It seems like we’ve been killing a lot, especially (yesterday).”

The Bruins survived three delay-of-game minors in the first period, allowing zero shots.

“I thought we were a little bit more aggressive early on,” Bergeron said. “As the game went on, obviously it was taxing on the penalty killers a lot, because we had to kill many times. It seemed like they opened us up and spread us out a little better by the end, and they made some good plays.”

As distraught as he was at the end, Bergeron was proud of his team’s effort during the regular season and in its return to the postseason after two years out.

“I’m very proud of everyone,” he said. “A lot of guys came into the lineup with not much experience (and were) asked to play a different role. They did it and it was impressive to see. It was next-man-up every time. I think it was a great experience for the young guys. Like any season, there were a lot of ups and downs. At the end of the year, we definitely rallied and played some better hockey and turned it around. We got into a rhythm and gave ourselves a chance to get into the postseason. Once we got there, I thought we showed lot of character. It was a tight series. It stinks to be standing here now talking about it, but you look at the lineup and there (were) a lot of very young players who (learned) a lot in this series.

“That’s definitely a step in the right direction. Over the last few years it seemed like that was the direction that (Don Sweeney) and Cam (Neely) wanted to go. Now you can see that those young guys are contributing and helping. (It) is definitely bright for the next few years.”