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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