The Boston Bruins were the best team in the Eastern Conference through 82 games, and it wasn't particularly close. Perhaps if their series with the Montreal Canadiens had been 82 games long.
But it was seven, and through seven, they were second-best, dropping Wednesday's series finale by a score of 3-1.
What was the difference? Well, it's a truism, but the Canadiens simply scored more. For that, they can thank their fourth line, which put in two, but mostly Carey Price, who kept the high-powered Bruins at bay, especially in the final two games, allowing just one goal in this series' last 120 minutes.
When Dale Weise opened the scoring just 2:18 into the game, tipping home a cross-crease pass from Daniel Briere, you could feel the worry creeping into the TD Garden. The task for the Bruins coming into this game was to get one past Carey Price, which would have been one more than in Game 6. But now they had to score two, at a minimum, and that's no easy task.
When Max Pacioretty doubled the Canadiens lead midway through the second on a beautiful one-timer -- evidence of the finish he displayed all season, and seemed to lose early in this series -- the task grew even bigger.
Jarome Iginla got that one back, tipping a puck past Price on an odd-man rush late in the second. But that was all Price was giving them. Boston threw everything they could at him, but nothing else past, as he shut the door the rest of the way, finishing the night with 29 saves and a berth in the Eastern Conference Final.
Price wasn't letting another one in. Midway through the third, the Bruins looked like a team that knew it was over. And when Briere banked one off Zdeno Chara's skate to make it 3-1, it was.
A word on Danny Briere, who passed Sidney Crosby in all-time playoff scoring list with his two-point night in Game 7: what a great decision from Michel Therrien, to play him on the fourth line. Same for Weise, who was allowed to play his skill game in that slot, rather than goon it up, as he was asked to do, and reluctantly, half-heartedly did in Vancouver.
Skill guys occasionally make skill plays, you see, and it's skill plays -- not hits -- that put pucks past goalies. Briere created two goals Wednesday night, and that was the difference. Will the league take notice? Might this be the end of roster spots wasted on guys that are practically antithetical to goal-scoring?
Now the Canadiens move on to face the New York Rangers in an Eastern Conference Final that few predicted, and it bears mentioning that the two teams are backstopped by the goaltenders that met in the Olympic gold medal game. Fitting, since they're also the reasons both teams are there, and one of them will likely be the reason his team competes for the Stanley Cup two weeks from now.