Bruins

Why it's time to start worrying about the Bruins after epic third-period collapse

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Why it's time to start worrying about the Bruins after epic third-period collapse

BOSTON — It’s officially time to start getting worried about the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins extended their losing streak to four games with a historically bad loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night where they blew a four-goal lead in the third period and lost a home game for the first time in the history of the Original Six organization.

It all led to a 5-4 shootout loss to a Panthers team that’s chasing them in the standings and a longer losing streak than the Black and Gold endured all of last season. The Bruins were loath to talk about the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” in training camp or at the beginning of the year when things were going so well, but it sure looks like they are going through one of those kinds of bumps in the road here at the start of November.

It was even more stunning because the B’s had looked like they had turned it around in the first 40 minutes of the game while building a 4-0 lead and limiting the Panthers to just 12 shots on net. But it all fell apart in the third period on the back of goaltending gaffes, penalties taken when the Bruins were in the driver’s seat, and an inability to finish off scoring plays around the net after Florida pulled Sergei Bobrovsky from the game.

Those separate things had plagued the B’s at different times in the first three losses of the streak, but all of them conspired to sink this year’s edition of the Bruins to a new low in a season that had been all highs until very, very recently.

The Bruins were an amazing 194-1-4 since 2010 in games where they held a three-goal lead through the first 40 minutes of the game, a stat that underscores just horrendous and uncharacteristic the third period choke was against the Panthers.

“This is a team that’s closed out games for years, and the last goal to me — put everything else aside — is disappointing. We get beat one-on-one off the rush, winger circling out of the scoring area knowing the game is on the line. You could sit here and argue that the guy’s holding Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] stick and can’t clear the puck at the end, but structurally we were bad on that last goal,” said Bruce Cassidy. “That’s the disappointing part to me. That’s when we’re usually rock solid.

"It’s a strength of our team to close out games. I think we had a perfect record of, you know, we had a lead going into the third period. It’s a trademark of this team. Yeah, it is a concern. Part of it is goaltending, part of it is staying out of the [penalty box]. You mismanage pucks by giving them odd-man rushes, you take penalties by putting them on the power play — we did a little bit of both. You don’t tighten up and protect the slot because typically D are activating, so if you take care of that, you’re going back the other way and you have a chance to sort of finish the job. We didn’t do any of those things very well.”

It was easier to discount losses to Detroit and Philadelphia as instances where the Bruins were disengaged against teams they aren’t really competing head-to-head with for playoff spots, but that is not the case with a Panthers club just three points behind Boston in the Atlantic Division standings.

Certainly, the Bruins at this point seem to understand that there is a problem and that it needs to be straightened out.  

“We all realize that was not our 60-minute game. We lost a point and it’s on us,” said Chara. “At this point we have to be able to defend [a lead] and play strong to the end. We’ve got to realize that teams are ready to play and we’ve got to elevate our game. A few games before, we were a little bit late to the start of our game and I thought we were good with our start tonight. But our finish was not there. We’re looking to complete three strong periods of hockey and play strong for the full time of the game.”

The leaky goaltending, the lack of discipline when it comes to penalties and the inconsistent period-to-period play all point toward a hockey team that’s experiencing difficulty maintaining focus, and doesn’t have the same sharpness in execution as they did in the first month of the season. Some of that is about injuries subtracting players like Jake DeBrusk, Torey Krug and David Backes from the lineup, but some of it feels like it’s the first wall that the Bruins have run headlong into this season after playing 106 hockey games last season into mid-June.

The concern now is how long this funk is going to last. This Friday night's showdown against the Maple Leafs will be a good barometer as to which direction the Bruins are headed after Tuesday night’s slap to the face.

The good news is that the Bruins built up quite a cushion with their 11-1-2 start to the season, but everybody can see that they are going to need it in a season that isn’t going to be anywhere near as easy as it seemed in the first month.

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Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

BOSTON – The good news for the Bruins is that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

The relatively bad news for the Bruins is also that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

Clearly, the Bruins would rather be up 15 points than behind 15 points, but with every situation there comes challenges.

It certainly seems as if some disarming comfort and an old-fashioned lack of urgency have crept into the B’s game as they again stumbled through the first 40 minutes Thursday night before a patented third-period comeback earned them a point in an eventual overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

The game against Chicago was particularly damning because it uncovered a real lack of focus in the overall game. The Bruins allowed a pair of special teams goals in the final two minutes of the first period and were caught napping again 17 seconds into the third to dig a 3-0 hole.

One can dissect the individual problems, whether it was a costly turnover from Charlie McAvoy on the power play that led to Chicago’s shorthanded goal, or the ensuing penalty from David Pastrnak that allowed the Blackhawks to double up with a PP goal 37 seconds later. Or Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug flat out getting caught flat-footed on Alex DeBrincat’s speed rush in the opening shift of the third that finally seemed to act like smelling salts to the Black and Gold.

It says something about the character and the overall talent of the team that they can continuously overcome deficits in the third period. There’s no denying they are the best team in the NHL in the final 20 minutes of the game.

They are outscoring opponents by a 2-1 margin (42-21) in the third period and have a whopping plus-21 goal differential when it comes to winning time.

But the lack of urgency out of the gate game after game of late sure looks like complacency and certainly looks like a team that knows they are far out ahead in the standings.

“Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.

"But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need [the urgency]."

The danger, of course, is that the Bruins turn into this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they race off to such a commanding lead that they never truly face character-building adversity in the regular season. The B’s have enough experience and talent to overcome that once they are in a playoff series, which would make them demonstrably different than a Lightning team that folded like a cheap chair in four games against Columbus last spring.

But there is still very much a danger now that the Bruins can float through the rest of this regular season where they only need to win half (27) of their remaining 53 games to still get to 100 points based on their bounding start. Essentially the Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still breeze right into the playoffs, and win the division as well.

It's difficult to stay sharp under those circumstances and it will be equally difficult to match the intensity in the postseason facing a team that will have been scratching and clawing in order to get there. Torey Krug maintained he didn’t know what kind of lead the Bruins had in the Atlantic Division standings, and that’s probably the best thing for the Bruins to do right now.

“I would say normally yes, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in that position right now,” said Krug, when asked if the Bruins need to guard against complacency. “I don’t why that is. It’s so early in the season and we’re chasing perfection, and there’s a high standard here. So maybe that’s where it comes from,  but it doesn’t feel like we’re that far ahead [of everybody else].

“We’re missing a lot of guys too, so you always feel like going into these games that you need to bring your ‘A’ game because of who we’re missing. As a veteran guy, you feel like you need to take more onto your shoulders. I’m not even sure if guys know [their lead in the Atlantic] and it’s probably a good idea to just stay in the moment.”

Clearly, Krug walks it the way he talks as it was the puck-moving D-man that notched the tying goal Thursday in the final minutes to cap off the three-goal comeback in the third period.

The one silver lining that could stoke the B’s hunger and keep them at least partially invested in the game-to-game gauntlet the next five months: The top seed in the Eastern Conference is still wide open in competition with the Capitals.

Home-ice advantage all through the playoffs is certainly something to play for and could be a difference in a conference final showdown with Washington, and that should be a carrot directly in front of the Bruins that the coaching staff can sell them on.

But at no point does it seem as if the Bruins are going to have to fight for their lives for the rest of the season and they are already close to finishing the season series with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, rivals that are chasing them in the standings.

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will continue to be without Patrice Bergeron this weekend, but the B’s top center is making progress with his lower-body injury.

Bergeron, 34, took a positive step by participating in practice with his teammates for the first time since being injured on Friday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, though he was wearing a no-contact sweater and didn’t really mix in with his normal linemates for drills. Bruce Cassidy confirmed following practice that Bergeron won’t play Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, but remained hopeful he may return early next week barring any setbacks.

“[He’s wearing] a red sweater; that’s good. He participated in some line rushes, but it wasn’t a heavy contact practice,” said Cassidy. “He won’t play [against Colorado], but once you have the red sweater on you’re that much closer. Monday [against Ottawa] now becomes more of a target date for us if there are no setbacks.”

It will mark the seventh straight game that Bergeron has missed with his lower-body injury and the ninth game of the past 11 games that he’s missed due to the nagging injury. The amazing thing: The Bruins have gone 6-0-2 thus far without Bergeron and have done a pretty good job of getting by having David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others fill into his many different roles on the ice. 

Brett Ritchie skated in line drills and appears close to a return, but it remains to be seen which forward he might replace in the lineup. 

Here are the projected line combos and defense pairings based on practice Friday ahead of the big non-conference tilt Saturday against eth talented, explosive Avs:

Marchand-Coyle-Heinen

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

Bjork-Lindholm-Ritchie

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Moore-Grzelcyk

 

Rask

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