BUFFALO – It would appear that it’s all starting to catch up with the Bruins just a little bit.
The Bruins never held a lead before falling to the lowly Buffalo Sabres by a 4-1 score on Sunday night at the KeyBank Center, and looked low on energy, short on fight and sloppy in the execution category along the way. It was a little more competitive on Saturday night when they lost to the Maple Leafs in the final two minutes of the game, but the end result is that the Bruins dropped back-to-back games in regulation for the first time since the middle of November.
It wasn’t so much individual mistakes on Sunday against the Sabres as the Bruins had breakdowns in the normally dependable penalty kill, saw many of their young guys seem some slack in their games aside from goal-scorer Charlie McAvoy and didn’t have anything in the way of a true push around the Sabres net.
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Danton Heinen had a key offensive zone turnover that led directly to Buffalo’s killer third goal in the second period, and Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid both struggled together as a pairing with Brandon Carlo watching from the press box as a healthy scratch. They weren’t the only ones to struggle, however, as pretty much everybody outside of new guy Rick Nash really didn’t look like they were bringing their best to the table.
Even their best are getting beaten up as Patrice Bergeron was a game time decision on Sunday with an injured right foot, and then for his efforts took a high stick in the first period that pulverized one of his bottom front teeth.
The Bruins have done a good job of defying the odds in games that most would chalk up as a “scheduled loss” before the puck was dropped, but they couldn’t escape that fate against Buffalo playing their second game in less than 24 hours.
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“Obviously these last two games weren’t good enough. We didn’t put our game out there long enough to give ourselves a great chance to win games the way we did for such a long, extended streak,” said David Backes. “But ready or not we’re going to be playing every other day almost for the rest of the year, and there’s no time to get out of rhythm. We just need to find our pace and take the rest when we can get, but bring it to the rink when we’re playing for keeps.”
Instead it was a game where the Bruins skated with tired legs at the end of a long five game road trip, and will see more of the same with 24 games in 44 days to close out the season starting with the two games this past weekend. The B’s don’t want to use it as an excuse, but understand that it’s something they will need to push through.
“I thought we looked slow today. They looked fast in our end and closing [off plays]. We’ve been good back-to-back, so that was a little surprising that we didn’t have more juice. We found it in the second [period], but you can’t get behind consistently and expect to fight back. We just need to be better early, and find a way to stay in the game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We had things going our way pretty well, so now it’s a bit of adversity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. We went through it at the start of the year and it us a better hockey club going through that stretch.
“Now we’re going through a bit of it now, and the hope is it will make us a better hockey club down the road. It isn’t getting easier with our schedule going forward, so that’s going to be on us to get mentally dialed more back in there.”
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Clearly losing back-to-back regulation games for the first time in three plus months isn’t exactly a cause for panic, and the Bruins prepared for some choppy waters with the way they piled up points in game after game when things were going well. But the easy prediction for this Bruins team was that things would get very difficult for them in the last couple of months of the regular season, and that rough road has already begun with a five game road trip where they lost three out of the five games, including losses to bad teams in Vancouver and Buffalo.
The Bruins will get Monday completely away from the rink to rest and recharge at home coming off their longest road trip of the season, but then it will be right back into the grind with another game on Tuesday. It’s the new reality for the Black and Gold for the rest of the season, so they’d better find a way to get used to it.