MONTREAL – While things are looking extremely bleak for the defending champs, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara remains a believer.
The Montreal Canadiens swept a home-and-home series with their biggest rivals by beating the Bruins 4-2 on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, continuing Boston's spiral down to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
"I believe in this team," Chara said after the Bruins third straight loss dropped them to 3-7-0 on the season. "I know what we have. I know we are in a deep hole, but if anybody can get out of it, it's this team."
The Bruins have scored just four goals in their last three games to get off to the worst 10-game start for a defending Stanley Cup champion since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994.
"When we all get on the same page and start trusting each other, that's when things will get better," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Right now there's some hesitation in our play."
Goaltender Tuukka Rask saw his record drop to 0-3-0 on the season through no fault of his own, and he was even the primary reason why the score was so close with 23 saves. The Bruins have scored just three goals in Rask's three starts this season.
Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg admitted it's getting difficult not to hear the panic that is setting in around the team.
"You're trying to not read or listen to anything that's being written, but it's tough because it's everywhere," he said. "In order to get rid of it we just have to play better, work harder and just execute way better than we have for the last few games."
The Canadiens (4-5-2) climbed to within a game of the .500 mark after getting off to their worst start to a season in 70 years.
Carey Price made 26 saves and has given up just four goals over his past three starts, all wins. His save percentage over that span is .950, compared to his .878 mark over his first seven starts of the season.
"I think our guys are pretty confident again," Price said. "That's all it took, just a couple of wins. Now the guys are excited to go to the rink again. When you're losing it's not fun, everything's gloom and doom. Winning solves everything."
The Montreal power play has suddenly come alive, scoring twice on six opportunities Saturday and now clicking at a 25 per cent clip over the last four games after a 2-for-29 start to the season.
The Bruins allowed that Canadiens power play to get a lot of practice, Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton each taking undisciplined retaliation penalties to slow Boston's momentum.
The Horton penalty came just as a 56-second Bruins 5-on-3 advantage came to an end early in the third period, wiping out the remainder of Boston's one-man advantage while they tried to climb back in the game.
"They did a good job of initiating and we got caught retaliating. There ended up being some tough calls against us and it wound up costing us some goals," said Julien, who admitted both he and his team lost their focus because they were upset at the officiating. "Our discipline, we have that reputation. It's there. So we have to be careful because they're looking for us to do those kinds of things. So
we've got to be smarter in that area."
It's impossible to imagine how this game may have been different had Rich Peverley's deke on Price just two minutes after the opening faceoff gone in instead of hitting the far post. The Bruins barely made it into the Montreal end with any authority for a long stretch afterwards.
It ultimately cost them as Brian Gionta tipped home his second of the season at 15:26 and Lars Eller got his first just 1:16 later on the very next shot Rask saw.
Chris Kelly had a partial breakaway stopped by Price just after the eight-minute mark of the second just before Rask made a larcenous save on Erik Cole to keep Boston within two goals.
But with Ference in the box for punching P.K. Subban behind the play, David Desharnais converted on the power play at 12:23 to make it 3-0.
"It is something we have to be careful of, is getting calls on retaliations," Chara said. "We can be physical, but we have to be smart about it. You can't be blaming referees for those calls. It would be better if they saw both sides, but that's the way it is. We lost the game and we can't blame anybody but us."
Boston got within striking distance at 16:28 when Eller made a bad giveaway in his own zone to lead to Milan Lucic's third of the season, but after essentially wasting that two-man advantage early in the third the Bruins never made a serious threat to come back in the game until the final minute.
Taking advantage of an ill-advised icing from Subban with Rask pulled, Julien called timeout and Tyler Seguin scored at 19:05 to get Boston within a goal.
But Tomas Plekanec scored an empty-netter at 19:48 to seal the win and send the Bruins deeper into their Stanley Cup hangover.
"I think there is no discussion," Eller said, "we were the better team tonight."