BOSTON – On the one hand, the Bruins aren’t going to have to worry about 3-on-3 overtime and the dreaded shootout when they get to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
On the other hand, the extra-session losses are piling up for the B's' and they dropped another one on Thursday night in a 2-1 OT loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at TD Garden. It was Boston’s NHL-leading 11th overtime/shootout loss of the season. They're 2-11 when they go beyond regulation.
It was a decent 60 minutes of hockey from the Bruins and they were poised to win 1-0 until a Sonny Milano bad-angle shot in the third period bounced off Matt Grzelcyk’s skate and then right on past Tuukka Rask to tie things up. Still, it was another lost point to an Eastern Conference also-ran for the Bruins in a season where they have fumbled away way too many points against teams they should be beating.
But that’s a different story for a different day. The main point of the Thursday night loss was another OT setback that now sees them at 2-5 in 3-on-3 overtime and a horrifying 0-6 in shootouts. They are now just seven OT/shootout losses away from tying the all-time NHL record for futility with another 40 games left in the regular season.
It’s getting to the point now where even the NHL’s leading scorer admits the Bruins are getting in their own heads once they get to overtime.
“It’s frustrating obviously. There’s been plenty of them this year,” said David Pastrnak after scoring his NHL-leading 30th goal of the season in the second period. “It’s probably getting in our heads that we want to win one and we’re obviously missing a little confidence there.”
In this particular instance, it was on Pastrnak, David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy, who all stayed on the ice way too long on the opening shift of overtime. It nearly netted them a goal when Pastrnak narrowly missed on a give-and-go play with Krejci, but once they missed that chance they were too gassed to get back up the ice and stop the Blue Jackets from converting on a 2-on-1 once Seth Jones was able to get the puck out of the Columbus defensive zone and past the flailing reaches of Krejci and Pastrnak.
Pierre-Luc Dubois finished the 2-on-1 with a heavy, top-corner one-timer blast to past Rask and the Bruins have watched their lead in the Atlantic Division drop to eight points over the Maple Leafs, who are 14-4-1 since they fired Mike Babcock. The Bruins are going to be tough to catch as long as they keep picking up “loser points” in these OT/shootout losses, but it’s also not exactly a quality brand of hockey they’ve been playing for more than a month.
“I’m sure no one’s pleased. It’s another lead going into the third period we weren’t able to close out. That’s as frustrating as anything. You give up a goal, you push to try to get another one. I thought, again, [we had] some opportunities around their net. They did a good job blocking shots. We hit a good one right off the post,” said Bruce Cassidy. “As for the overtime, some of it is we’ve got to smarten up. [You] can’t get caught diving down low, that’s happened more than once this year.
“On those puck battles away from your net, if you don’t make a play at their end, you’ve got to make sure you put yourself in a better spot defensively to defend the rush or get off the ice. That’s cost us a few times, so at some point, you’ve got to learn from those mistakes as well.”
Part of the mental issue that Pastrnak mentioned concerning OT was the pressure to win in an OT session with the knowledge that it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen in a shootout. That pushes Pastrnak and Krejci to try and force plays that aren’t there, stay out on the ice for a shift longer than they should and get out of the smart, responsible game that makes them so successful most of the time.
It’s something Torey Krug alluded to after a loss in which he never got a chance to get over the boards and try and help the B’s get an OT win.
“Just be smarter and hang onto the puck. It seems like other teams are doing that to us where they hang onto the puck longer and get the changes at the appropriate times,” said Krug. “I’m not just speaking about tonight, but in games past, I feel like we can out-change the other team and be respectful of our changes, and then see what happens. We had some pretty decent chances tonight. Pasta had a good chance, but just couldn’t come up with it. That’s what happens.”
Whatever the case, it needs to get fixed for the Bruins as the two-point wins are the only way the B’s are going to get back rolling rather than dwell in the fits and starts of the past month as “loser point” losses pile up.