Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Who will be next to 700 goals now that Alex Ovechkin has done it? It sure feels like David Pastrnak

Who will be next to 700 goals now that Alex Ovechkin has done it? It sure feels like David Pastrnak

Alex Ovechkin left no doubt about his 700th career goal in the NHL when he scored it on Saturday afternoon, and good for him.

It came from the opposite face-off circle from where No. 8 does most of his damage for the Washington Capitals power play, but it was still an Ovie one-time rocket that he roofed past New Jersey goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. It’s really the way any milestone NHL goal should be for a legendary NHLer like Ovechkin.

It was one of many things to celebrate about the NHL on a jam-packed Saturday in February and it also reminded everybody the 34-year-old Capitals star is the premier goal-scorer and game-breaker of his generation. With 42 goals already on his ledger for this season while on a pace for 57 goals, it’s also clear the Russian scoring machine isn’t all that close to slowing down either.

He may pass by Mike Gartner (708 goals) on the all-time list as early as this season, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-record 894 career goals could be attainable for Ovie as well. He’d have to play until he was 40 years old and continue to average 40 goals per season, but Ovechkin has put himself in position to at least have a shot at the Great One.

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It all begs the question as to which player will be next to hit the 700 goals milestone in the NHL.

Steve Stamkos may get there with 422 career goals at 30 years old with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s probably got the best chance of any NHL player over the age of 25 years old. He’s on pace for 39 goals this season and would need to stay on that pace until he was 37 years old to reach that mark, a possibility given his work ethic, his status in Tampa Bay, and an offensive game that’s centered around his one-timer on the power play.

But the guy with perhaps the best shot to get there in the future?

It’s got to be 23-year-old Bruins superstar David Pastrnak, who leads the NHL with 45 goals after scoring two more in Saturday night’s 9-3 loss to the Canucks, and is on pace for 60 goals and 115 points in a monster season for the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak is going to finish this season close to 200 career goals at just 23 years old, and arguably has 15 good seasons in front of him based on dazzling offensive skills once again prominently reliant on a deadly one-timer from the face-off dot.

All Pastrnak has to do is average 35 goals per season until he’s 38 years old to reach the 700-goal milestone at 38 years old, and he’ll get close to 800 career goals if he can average 40 goals per season over the next decade-and-a-half. Obviously, it’s dependent on Pastrnak remaining healthy and productive for a long, long time, but the Bruins right winger is in a position to accomplish some of these things after entering the NHL as its youngest player during his 2014-15 NHL rookie season.

Certainly, Pastrnak’s coach thinks he can get there, and the winger should be in line for massive numbers as long as he’s part of the Perfection Line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I’m going to say Pasta because I love the kid, and he’s young, and he’s scoring,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked who might be the next 700-goal guy in the NHL. “I think it’s always about health, it’s always [about] are you surrounded by good players to help you? I mean, if you’re the only guy out there on your team, I think it would be hard every night for 82 games to try to push that. [Pastrnak] has got good support. Yeah, I think he’s one of those guys. I haven’t looked close enough to [Steven] Stamkos’ age to see what – because you always have to project, but in terms of the younger guys, Laine could be that guy because he has such a terrific shot; you tend not to lose that. He’s always going to be on the power play. That’s what’s helped Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] obviously to be able to maintain his sort of marks on the power play.

“But I think a lot of it has to do with health. I would have to think about that one a little bit more about which guys probably after two, three years. Is [Nikita] Kucherov in that mix? Does he score enough, or does he pass too much? Brayden Point scores a lot of goals, but he’s also a disher at times. I think it does take a certain amount of shot-first mentality if you’re going to challenge that many. Auston

Matthews probably has to be in that conversation as well, the way he shoots the puck. There are guys out there, [but] it’s probably just a little early to predict with those younger guys.”

Similar to Pastrnak, the 22-year-old Matthews would need to average 35 goals per season for the next 15 years to get to the 700-goal mark. That’s a doable thing for a former No. 1 overall pick and a player that’s on pace for 56 goals of his own this season for the Maple Leafs. The same with 24-year-old Leon Draisaitl, who will finish with around 170 career goals after this season and would need to average 35 goals per season until he was 39 years old to reach that mark as well.

Put all of it together and it feels like Pastrnak and Matthews are the two most likely candidates to be the next 700-goal guys in the league, so let’s put this article in a time capsule and release it 15 years from now to how it all actually played out.

Bruins-Canucks Talking Points: Tyler Toffoli shows B's what they missed out on

Bruins-Canucks Talking Points: Tyler Toffoli shows B's what they missed out on

GOLD STAR: There were plenty of strong candidates for the Canucks in their blowout win, but give the credit to Tyler Toffoli for scoring a pair of goals in his second game for Vancouver since coming over in the trade with the LA Kings.

Toffoli is already making an impact with points in each of his two games for the Canucks while injuries are impacting their roster, but he was especially strong on Sunday with the two goals, three points and a plus-3 rating in 14:50 of ice time.

Beyond that, he matched Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat for the team-high with five shots on net as well while showing the Bruins what they missed out on by peeling back on the Toffoli trade talks. He was an impact player for the Canucks while Ondrej Kase continues to be on the sidelines hurt and not ready to play quite yet for the B’s.  

BLACK EYE: No shots on net and a minus-4 rating for Danton Heinen on a disastrously bad night for Boston’s second line. Heinen and David Krejci both tied for the team-worst with the minus-4 ratings and there was zero offensive push from Krejci, Heinen and Jake DeBrusk while an incredibly hungry, rested Vancouver team was waiting for them.

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The problem now for guys like Heinen is that their days with the Bruins are numbered now that Ondrej Kase is coming into the fold with a mandate to take opportunities away from them. It might even be that Heinen gets dealt given the surplus of middle-6 forwards on this Bruins roster right now. Heinen made a compelling case to not be a guy that sticks around in the loss to Vancouver.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were only losing 2-1 after the first period of play and things didn’t seem so bad for them at that point. But the weight of playing five back-to-back games this month finally left some collateral damage with the B’s when they fell apart in the final 40 minutes of the game.

Sloppy puck possession and good old-fashioned lack of execution led to three more goals being scored by Vancouver in the second period despite being outshot by a 12-8 margin and the rout was one once it was a 5-1 deficit for the Black and Gold. Truthfully, the Bruins never felt like they were in this game at all and they proved it with the way they played in the last couple of periods against the Canucks in humbling, embarrassing defeat.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak scored a pair of goals to push the Bruins sniper to 45 goals on the season. Pastrnak continues to lead the NHL in goals scored and is now pushing toward 50 goals scored on the season with just five remaining until he reaches a historic plateau that hasn’t been done in the Bruins uniform since Bruins President Cam Neely did it himself during his prime years in Black and Gold.

Pastrnak finished with the two goals scored and six shot attempts for the Bruins, but even he finished a minus-2 rating while just about every forward line didn’t get it done on multiple levels for the Bruins.

BY THE NUMBERS: 20 – the number of years since the Canucks had a player with a Gordie Howe hat trick prior to Bo Horvat getting it done for Vancouver in Sunday’s win.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Tonight clearly we were not the better team. We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t do what was required to win and we didn’t have much luck our way either. I think we’ve got the full value for a majority of the wins we’ve had coming out of the break, but tonight they were the better and hungrier team. - Bruce Cassidy, on the NESN postgame about the 9-3 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver.