TORONTO -- It's easy to scratch your head and ask what exactly transpired Monday night during the Bruins' 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
For starters, the timer on the Jumbotron at the state-of-the-art Toronto building was malfunctioning at puck drop, and caused a brief delay before officials decided to start the game anyway. For the first two periods, nobody on either bench or in the stands had any idea how many shots either team had, when penatlies were expiring, or even how much time was left in the period. During stoppages in play, the PA announcer would report the amount of time remaining.
It gave the distinct feeling that something was off about the game from the very beginning, and it felt that way the entire night.
But that odd, disorienting backdrop was just the warm-up act for the on-ice officiating of Martin St. Pierre and Dan O'Halloran.
The last straw was a weak interference call on Dominic Moore with 2:54 left in the third period and the score tied, 1-1. It opened the door for a Tyler Bozak power-play goal that put Toronto ahead to stay -- the Leafs would add two empty-net goals after the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in search of the equalizer, and the B's got a garbage-time score from Moore with 10 seconds remaining -- and, in effect, decided a crucial late-season game with major playoff implications.
Had the Bruins won, they would have solidified their hold on third place in the Atlantic Division and put a major dent in Toronto's playoff chances. Instead, the B's now lead the Leafs by only a point, with Toronto holding a game in hand, and face another critical game tonight at TD Garden against second-place Ottawa.
Monday night's game should have been decided by the players. Instead it was tilted in Toronto's favor on a play in which Moore was simply battling for position with Nikita Soshnikov in front of the net, in which Soshnikov couldn't hold his position.
"I thought [the penalty on Moore] was an egregious call, to be perfectly honest with you," said Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "It happens 100 times during a game."
"It's playoff-style officiating where you're going to keep the game safe," said David Backes, "but let the guys [on the ice] decide with 10 games left and points so crucial at this time of year."
The late call was the capper of a rough night for the refs. Such as when they called matching penalties in the first period after Patrice Bergeron was crushed with a hit from behind by Soshnikov. That sequence led to a 4-on-4 goal for Toronto D-man Morgan Rielly.
Still, the Bruins need to find a way to kill penalties and overcome bad calls. And -- even though they were clearly frustrated and a little dumbfounded at some of the calls made during the game -- they agreed.
"It's unfortunate, but when those things happen you've got to take a deep breath and get the kill," said Cassidy. "[The Maple Leafs] took advantage of it. It was a great game, I thought, until that penalty call to be perfectly honest with you. It was a really good hockey game, and it's unfortunate we got no points out of it."
"The penalty really hurt us, but we've still got to do the job on the [penalty kill]," said Bergeron. "It was definitely down to the end for sure. We have to do the job at the end of games, but they have a good power play and they proved it."
So now the Bruins have lost two in a row at a time of year when you can't afford extended losing streaks. They need to put the tight loss in the rear-view mirror and re-focus on an Ottawa team that's beaten them badly twice this season, finding a way to break through the Guy Boucher trapping system that's strangled their offensive game against the Senators.
"We need to collect ourselves, get some rest and play Ottawa at home where we've been really good," said Backes. "Take care of business [Tuesday] night, throw the excuses away that we played [Monday] night and get a job done. That's all that matters. We need to park this and get right back on the winning track having that swagger and feeling in the third period that the next play is going to be ours, and that we're going to capitalize on it."
The aftertaste is bitter but the mission stays the same: Finish strong, and avoid the type of down-the-stretch collapse that doomed their playoff hopes in each of the last two years.