- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- When the Boston Bruins finished the regular season Sunday night as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, coach Claude Julien gave his assessment of the team as it prepares to face the fifth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs in the conference quarterfinals.
Julien issued a message to his players, calling being in the postseason a privilege and a chance to start anew. The Bruins were given Monday off, so general manager Peter Chiarelli held a conference call with the media to give his evaluation and expectations of the team and its upcoming series against the Maple Leafs.
"From our team's performance, we came off of a decent finish in the sense of the standings, but I don't think anyone was ever satisfied with our game, myself included, players included," Chiarelli said.
The GM knew, given the lockout-shortened schedule, it would be difficult to evaluate the team. The Bruins began the season strong with a 13-2-2 record in the first two months of the season. Over the final two months, Boston posted a 15-12-4 mark.
"I'm not going to offer any excuses," Chiarelli said. "We didn't perform to the way we were capable of performing on a number of different fronts. It was good we had a strong start and we were able to finish where we finished. If I'm going to judge our team on our latter half of the year, I would have to say that we really have to step up our performance to have success in the playoffs."
This is the Bruins' sixth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs, so the team has postseason experience. This will be Toronto's first trip to the playoffs since 2004. Boston won the season series against the Maple Leafs with a 3-1-0 record.
The Bruins have dominated the Maple Leafs the past few season with a 26-6-5 record in the past 37 games. Boston is 11-1-1 in the past 13 games against Toronto at TD Garden.
"Everybody automatically favors us, but they're a different team this year," Chiarelli said. "They've added to their size. They've added a couple of bangers in the back end.
"[Nazem] Kadri has really come into his own, Phil [Kessel] has had a good year, [Joffrey] Lupul has been good when he's healthy, so these guys, they're a different team. I think it's going to be a real emotional and physical series, and we've got to play them heavy like we can."
The one aspect of Boston's game that most needs to improve is the offense. The Bruins have struggled scoring goals and finished the regular season 14th in that category with 127, including 96 during five-on-five situations.
If Boston wants to score more goals, it needs to capitalize on its quality chances and crash the net with more reckless abandon.
"I've liked the physicality in these last three games," Chiarelli said. "I've liked the effort. It's been consistent. We're starting to generate more chances. We're not finishing those chances and we have to improve on that, but we're generating more chances.
"The level of activity and intensity has picked up. That I like, and the message, I would want that to continue and eventually we will find our game, our execution, our skill level, we'll find it if this other stuff is in place."
The Bruins learned firsthand in 2011 how critical goaltending is to win the Stanley Cup. Tim Thomas provided an historic performance and finished as the Conn Smythe winner after guiding the Bruins to their first Cup in 39 years.
This season, the Bruins will have Tuukka Rask between the pipes. He has limited playoff experience and posted a 7-6 record in 13 postseason games in 2010.
This season, Rask finished with a 19-10-5 record with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in 36 games as the team's No. 1 goalie.
"Tuukka's had a good season," Chiarelli said. "It's been an abbreviated season, but a busy season and he's had playoff experience, and I think the team and him now feel comfortable and compatible, so I would expect him to have success.
Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, 24, has never played in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, as the Bruins learned in 2012 when they lost to Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals' 23-year-old goaltender, in the first round.
Reimer finished this season with a 19-8-5 record, a 2.46 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 36 games.
In head-to-head matchups this season, both teams' power-play units struggled. In the four games, Boston went 0-for-7 on the power play, while Toronto went 1-for-11.
Overall this season, the Bruins finished with the 26th-ranked power play and scored only 18 times in 122 chances on the man-advantage. The Maple Leafs finished 14th and scored 31 power-play goals on 166 opportunities.
Even though the Bruins' PP has been subpar, Chiarelli believes it has been better but still needs some work.
"I liked our movement the last couple of games, but it hasn't been good and we still have to improve it," Chiarelli said. "Part of that is finishing and bearing down on the chances in the dirty areas."
On the penalty kill, Toronto finished second in the league, allowing only 19 goals in 157 shorthanded situations. Boston finished fourth, allowing 21 goals in 163 shorthanded situations.
"The penalty kill, we've dipped the last couple of games but we've been really good all year," Chiarelli said. "We play an aggressive penalty kill. Toronto's power play, they've got some good skilled players."
From a coaching standpoint, Chiarelli knew Julien would face some challenges this season due to the condensed schedule and the likelihood of injuries. Earlier this season, Julien moved into second place on the Bruins' all-time coaching wins list and he currently has a 256-145-56 record in 457 games behind the Boston bench. The Bruins have earned a postseason berth in each of the coach's six seasons in Boston
When asked to give his assessment of the job Julien did this season, Chiarelli gave an interesting analogy.
"I can say this applies to any team, and it applies to us when we're having a very good year, and it applies to us when we're having an average year," Chiarelli said. "It's like a dam with holes in it. You've got to plug the holes, and whenever you can plug one hole, there seems to be another, so it just seems to be more holes this year, and our play shows that too.
"I'm happy with the way he's handled it. There have been more issues this year for a number of reasons and I think he's handled himself well. We're fourth in the conference. We had a good start, which we felt was very important this year, and as it turned out, it was very important. We've had a terrific PK, but our power play struggled, I'll make no bones about it. But I've been happy with the way Claude's coached this year."
Peter Chiarelli knows the Bruins need to be better in the postseason.