BOSTON -- The Bruins were shut out by Scott Clemmensen and the Panthers 1-0 Thursday night, squandering another chance to pull away from the pack in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.
Florida defenseman Keith Ballard scored the only goal 7:15 into the game and Clemmensen did the rest, making 36 saves for his first shutout of the season and stonewalling a frustrated Boston team that just can't seem to find the back of the net.
"I was hoping I got my first shutout before April," said Clemmensen, who had plenty of success at TD Garden playing for the Boston College Eagles from 1997-2001. "Better late than never."
The inconsistent Bruins would rather it have been never for Clemmensen -- or at least not Thursday night, as they once again failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to inch closer to a playoff spot.
With a win, the Bruins could've pulled two points ahead of the Flyers, who lost 6-4 to the Islanders, and four points ahead of the Thrashers, who lost 2-1 to the Capitals. But instead, they remained tied with Montreal, which was idle, and Philadelphia, with all three teams deadlocked in sixth place with 82 points.
They also continued what has been one of their worst seasons on home ice in recent memory, falling to 16-17-6 at TD Garden.
This loss wasn't for lack of effort on the Bruins' part, but once again mistakes cost them dearly.
"No idea. It's very frustrating right now we can't win hockey games at home and we are doing better on the road, but certainly, we try our best and tonight, I thought we had a really good effort," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "Everybody worked really hard, and one little mistake cost us the game and, again, we couldn't score."
The Bruins continued a troubling trend in which they win one big game and then follow up by losing another. After going into New Jersey and playing one of their most complete games of the season in a 1-0 overtime win, they once again found a way to waste a solid effort on Thursday.
"We always win when we have to win and these kinds of games, with a team who's out of the playoffs, they come in our home building and we just can't win," said goalie Tuukka Rask, who received the team's Seventh Player Award prior to the game for performing above and beyond expectations this season. "It's frustrating. I hope it doesn't cost us too much at the end of the day."
Rask made 19 saves but felt like he could have stopped Ballard's shot that proved to be the difference.
"I think it was a D who jumped in the play," he explained to the media after the game. "He (Ballard) got the puck and I saw the shot. I thought I had it and I started to squeeze it in and suddenly it was in the net. It went through my armpit. That's one of those goals you want to have back. But it's just one goal and you can't be perfect."
Unfortunately with the Bruins averaging just 2.36 goals-per-game as the lowest scoring team in the NHL, Rask and goaltending partner Tim Thomas almost do have to be perfect. On Thursday it was the goalie at the other end, on a team playing for nothing but pride, that was perfect.
"We are going to come across situations like this," Ballard said of the Panthers playing the role of the spoiler down the stretch. "We don't have a whole lot else to play for except upsetting some teams. It was a big game for them. We are going to run into a few more of those in the last couple weeks here. We are going to see some teams' better games."
Ballard was also glad his goalie was able to come in and shut out the Bruins, adding one more fond memory to the plethora he already has of Boston.
"It was great and I couldn't be happier for him," he said of Clemmensen, who got his fifth career shutout. "He hasn't gotten in a ton of games this year and it has to be tough sitting and then get tested. For him to do it and come back to Boston and get the shutout here, he played awesome."
But for the Bruins, this was a game they may look back on if they miss the playoffs.
"I mean, we can't ask for much more, effort-wise, but I still don't think we had 20 guys tonight," veteran Mark Recchi said. "But you know, the guys that were going were generating a lot of opportunities and you got to put those in. We need -- like I said, this time of year, you need 20 guys, regardless, so that's a little bit of a disappointment, but we definitely controlled the game and played the right way and we should have won this one."