If they keep playing the way they did against the Oilers on Wednesday night — the way they have played for much of their snapped five-game winning streak — it is going to catch up to them very soon.
“We definitely need to be better,” said defenseman Zdeno Chara following a 3-2 shootout loss to Edmonton. “We played a team that worked hard, and they have obviously a lot of skill. They’re a very dangerous team, and we didn’t have our best game. We need to be better. We certainly need to work much harder — winning more battles and races, and it just wasn’t good enough.
“I know we got a point out of it, but I think we have to realize that if we keep playing like this, it’s just a matter of time where we’re going to burn ourselves.”
The Bruins have won lately — five in a row, and six of their last seven — but they have been the first to admit that they haven’t been great. They have gotten by with timely scoring and, perhaps most importantly, timely goaltending.
But they embarked on this trip knowing they could be better and insisting they would be better. Out of the gates on Wednesday, they were strong. They had their skating legs, and they manufactured a number of golden opportunities in the first period, mostly off the stick of Matt Beleskey.
But Anders Nilsson held strong for the Oilers in net, and in the second period, his offense would come through for him in the most improbable of ways.
Midway through the frame, the Bruins — owners of the league’s most potent power play — surrendered their first shorthanded goal of the season. In the midst of a line change, the puck got caught up in a tangle of players in front of Boston’s bench, producing a 2-on-1 for the Oilers.
Mark Letetsu went to Matt Hendricks, who went back to Letetsu, and he tucked it behind Rask for the 1-0 lead.
“We talked a lot before the game about how we needed the skating legs,” Rask said. “I think the first period was good. They had shots, but they didn’t have any second opportunities or clear chances. Then, second period — again, wide open.”
Though the second period once again proved unkind to the Bruins, they were able to salvage it.
With just 1:33 remaining in the frame, Torey Krug struck for his second goal of the season, as his wrister from the left circle deflected off an Oilers defenseman and past Nilsson.
But midway through the third period, the tandem of Hendricks — this time, the goal scorer — and Letetsu combined to give the Oilers yet another lead.
So, with five minutes remaining in regulation, the Bruins had put themselves in a position to do precisely what they had done in the two games prior: They required a late comeback to stay alive.
They turned on the jets. They skated better and won more battles. They played their game rather than adapting themselves to fit Edmonton’s.
And once again, it resulted in a goal.
“That’s when everybody’s kind of on top of the puck and reading each other and skating and moving and not hesitating,” Rask said. “Then, once we stop doing that, it’s just terrible.”
This time, Loui Eriksson and David Krejci battled a slew of Oilers for the puck behind the net, and Krejci eventually came up with it, sending it out front to the slot for a waiting Chara. Nilsson stood no chance, and the game was tied.
“I thought when we tied the game at 2-2, the last five minutes, all of a sudden, we started playing our game,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “Had we played like that the whole game, we would have had probably a better result.”
In overtime, the Bruins killed yet another penalty — their fifth of the game — to extend it to a shootout. In three rounds, Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle was the only player to score, and the Bruins were left with a point but no glory.
“I think we were average tonight,” Julien said. “Our skating game was there, but we didn’t play a real hard game tonight, and that’s what we needed to do. We needed to skate, we needed to play hard against this team, and we chose to kind of play a little bit more their type of game, and we were going up and down. There were some plays being made, but there was also a lot of chances that were traded off, and that’s not the way we play.”
With a back-to-back against Calgary and Vancouver looming, however, the Bruins have no choice but to take the positives and move on. It isn’t easy, but it is their only recourse.
“At the end of the day, we got a point,” Krejci said. “It’s disappointing, but we still have a chance to get five out of six points on the road.”
The Bruins are well aware that Wednesday marked a missed opportunity. They entered the game coming off four days of rest. They flew out to Edmonton early and got an extra practice day under their belts, an extra day to become acclimated to the time change and life on the road. The odds, it seemed, were all in their favor.
In the final five minutes of regulation and in overtime, they proved that they had their skating legs, that they could execute the gameplan. But they readily admitted that it took them too long to find their sense of urgency.
The Bruins have fallen into the habit of relying on a late surge — and timely goaltending — to keep them afloat, and they know that is no recipe for success as they move forward with the rest of this three-game road trip.
“I don’t think you want to make that a habit — you’re down one goal, and then all of a sudden, you just start playing like you should have been right off the bat,” Rask said. “That’s been the case a few times, here, and I think we have to fix that.
“You want to be the team ahead, not the team chasing all the time.”