Bruins admit OT losses 'getting in their heads' and it shows

Bruins admit OT losses 'getting in their heads' and it shows

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.

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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.

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

There are few secrets about the Bruins or the strengths and weaknesses that face them heading into the stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoffs that follow.

The Bruins rely on the NHL’s best line — the Perfection Line — superior special teams play, and the NHL’s top goaltending duo along with a strong defensemen group for their winning formula, and it’s proven plenty good enough during the regular season in recent years. The B’s currently sit at an NHL-best 86 points on the season and have a six-point lead on everybody else in the NHL aside from their hard-charging divisional rivals in Tampa Bay.

The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games after a ragged stretch of play in December/January and have been rolling since the NHL All-Star break while understandably feeling good about their game right now.

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“We’re taking a lot more value in [the defensive] part of the game, and some of it is getting the balance in the lines so that they’re fresh, getting everyone involved,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think most of our minutes now you’ll see, our forwards are typically at the least amount is 10 minutes sometimes for the lower guys if they’re not killing too many penalties, so I think that helps everyone stay in the game as well.”

When the Bruins are going well as they are right now, they are getting balanced play from their roster. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and it’s something that gets exposed when they play high-quality competition.

The weaknesses on the Bruins roster are equally clear and easy to diagnose because it’s been the same old thing for the last handful of years.

The Bruins have tried multiple times to acquire top-6 wingers who can produce offense, whether it’s been band-aid deadline solutions like Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford, or a stab at an attempted long-term fix when they traded for Rangers power forward Rick Nash. They couldn’t predict the abrupt, concussion-influenced retirement from the NHL for Nash following a few months in Black and Gold, and so a top-6 winger continues to be Don Sweeney’s "white whale" on the Bruins roster.

Once the playoffs begin and the Bruins face deeper, bigger and stronger defensive groups, the prolific Perfection Line routinely goes through stretches where they are held in check by opponents. It’s a prominent factor when the Bruins lost to the Lightning in the second round two years ago, and one of the prime reasons the B’s fell in seven games to the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final.

When it happens, the Bruins become almost completely reliant on their power play to provide offensive punch while the other forward lines haven’t been able to effectively fill the scoring void.

The only way that’s going to change is for the Bruins to bring in a top-6 forward who can play the role of game-breaker and finish off the offensive chances set up by linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins need another forward line that can put a scare in opponents offensively and they simply don’t have it consistently right now, just as they haven’t had it in the last handful of seasons.  

With names like Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker now off the trade deadline board, the Bruins are down to some of their top big-name trade choices in Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Anderson.

Kreider would be the optimal choice because of his skating speed, consistency and the size and occasional mean streak that the Bruins could surely use among their top-6 group. But there are options out there provided Sweeney doesn’t get hung up waiting for Kreider to be made available to teams.

The other need for the Bruins at this point?

With Kevan Miller out for the entire season to this point with a fractured kneecap that sidelined him for last spring’s entire Stanley Cup Final run as well, the Bruins are a little light on the back end. The B’s could use a big, strong, hardnosed and physical defenseman capable of holding other teams accountable and doling out physical punishment in the D-zone.

The Bruins may have found an in-house solution in 22-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who most recently served a two-game suspension for drilling Derek Stepan with a big, high hit against the side boards in a home win over the Coyotes. But that particular roster need is the reason they were linked to defenseman Brenden Dillon in trade rumors before he was eventually shipped from the San Jose Sharks to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a couple draft picks.

It’s also less than ideal to rely on a rookie like Lauzon as a rugged, grizzled enforcer on the back end when it comes to playoff time. That’s something else to consider when Don Sweeney goes shopping over the next five days ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a date that’s quickly becoming anticlimactic given all the trades getting consummated well ahead of time.

Sweeney knows the team’s greatest needs, he’s on the clock and the pressure is on the Bruins general manager to adequately address them ahead of next Monday’s deadline.

NHL rumors: Execs view Bruins, Avalanche as fits for a Joe Thornton trade

NHL rumors: Execs view Bruins, Avalanche as fits for a Joe Thornton trade

Joe Thornton is one of the best players in NHL history who hasn't won a Stanley Cup, but will he choose to chase that elusive ring and ask for a move before Monday's NHL trade deadline?

Thornton has played more than 15 years for the San Jose Sharks after the Boston Bruins traded him to the West Coast during the 2005-06 season. The Sharks have been one of the league's winningest teams during the regular season with Thornton, but playoff success has largely escaped them. They've reached the Stanley Cup Final only once during his tenure in San Jose, and the Sharks lost that series to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games four years ago.

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Thornton is 40 years old and in the final year of his contract. If there was a time to pursue a Stanley Cup title with a contender, it's right now. So, if he does want a trade, which teams make sense for the veteran center? Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun spoke to multiple executives around the league who shared their thoughts on the best fits for Thornton.

He has a full “no move” clause, but the Sharks would like to give him the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. If he’s going to be dealt, then league executives believe he’ll only go to a team that has a chance to win, so the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins are both viewed as good fits.

Thornton coming back to Boston, the place he began his Hall of Fame career, and winning a Stanley Cup with the Bruins would be an amazing story. 

From a hockey fit perspective, Thornton would be a good bottom-six addition for the Bruins, but only if another move for a goal-scorer was made ahead of the deadline. Thornton alone isn't going to make the Bruins a much-improved team. He's no longer an elite offensive player, and he hasn't hit the 20-goal mark since 2010-11. Thornton is still a decent playmaker and effective on the power play, but the Bruins need secondary goal scoring behind the Perfection Line. A player like New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider would best address this concern, and TSN reported Tuesday that the Bruins and Avalanche have emerged as frontrunners for a Kreider trade.

Kreider and Thornton would be a nice haul for the B's and help give them a strong chance to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the playoffs. All three of these teams have made trades over the last two weeks to bolster their rosters for the postseason.

Being traded to a contender doesn't always work for players in Thornton's position, and Jarome Iginla in 2013 is among the best recent examples. But Thornton absolutely deserves a chance, and the Bruins arguably are best-positioned of any team to win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Top 10 players for teams to target ahead of NHL trade deadline