BRIGHTON, Mass. - It’s really too bad the Bruins couldn’t finish their two-game trip on a massive high note with a statement win over the Predators.
They would have been only the fourth team in 14 tries to get the better of the Predators on their home ice and would have effectively slowed down a red-hot reigning Western Conference champ that’s won 13 of 16. The Preds have been something close to unbeatable since getting Kyle Turris in the three-team deal at the beginning of November. The Bruins got an up-close examination why in their 5-3 loss at Bridgestone Arena on Monday night.
In that way, it was a missed opportunity to take a massive step forward in the perceptions around the league on this season's Bruins and it was also a missed opportunity based on the self-inflicted wounds from mistakes made by Torey Krug, Anton Khudobin, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara and others.
That’s where the frustration comes in for a Bruins team that had won six of seven coming in and battled all the way back to make it a one-goal game in the third period before again shooting themselves in the foot with a Fillip Forsberg breakaway.
“We did a good job of pushing back and making it a game. We had some really good chances, but we’re at a point where we just need the results,” said Brad Marchand. “Regardless of the score, I thought we played better than they did. We just gave up a few chances that they capitalized on.”
Still, the Bruins deserve some credit for the way they’ve played against the big boys around the league this season. The Black and Gold memorably took down the Predators on opening night and ripped off a stretch to end November where they notched wins against the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. All quality teams that are currently in a playoff position as the Bruins sit just outside the top-eight teams in the Eastern Conference with games in hand.
It’s a good reflection on the Bruins that they’re playing the NHL’s best teams so toughly this season, and even when they lose, they are serving notice that they aren’t going to be an easy out.
“It seems to scare us into playing the right way when we see the firepower and ability of the players we’re playing against, especially when [it’s a team] that went deep last year or is highly-touted at the moment,” said David Backes. “It causes us to value all of the puck possessions and not give away anything while making them earn it all. When we do that our goalies are seeing all the pucks and the chances against them are a little lower quality. It kind of clues everybody in and gives us the extra motivation to prove that we are a good team. We’re moving [healthy] bodies back in here it seems like every day, and things are going pretty well.”
All that being said the Bruins are at a point where it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if they’re beating the best teams in the league. They were a playoff team last season and the B’s are shaping up to again be a group that looks playoff-worthy again with key core members David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand again leading the way with dominant seasons.
They are as close to full health as they’ve been all season and now will be the time for the Black and Gold to start seizing opportunities like the one that slipped through their fingers in Music City.
It’s also about the Bruins beating the lesser teams with the same focus, effort and emotion that they’re bringing against the league’s best. The Bruins have also lost to some of the league’s worst teams: once each to the Oilers and Sabres and a couple of awful back-to-back losses to the Avs now back in their last place residence in the Central Division.
“We’ve got Stanley Cup champions in there, so they do elevate their game [against big challenges],” said Bruce Cassidy. “That’s a good thing. But you don’t want to shrink down your game [if it’s an opponent] that you don’t have as much respect for. You’ve got to guard against that and play to your standard in every game.”
Guarding against playing down to their competition will be an immediate test with the Arizona Coyotes rolling into town on Thursday night with the second-fewest points (19) in the NHL. So, it’s time for the B’s to turn the page on the missed opportunities and focus on taking care of business against one of the very beatable weak sisters.