On Wednesday night against Philadelphia, the Bruins were almost able to submit that elusive 60-minute effort that they had produced in two straight road games that both generated wins. Almost, but not quite.
They fought back at the tail end of a tough first period to tie the game, and they even took a 4-2 lead into the third, but a lack of focus and repetitive defensive miscues eventually cost them, and they fell 5-4 in overtime.
“I think a lot of it is that we played a light game tonight — a lot lighter than them,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “They certainly were better in the battles than we were, and they were certainly better at getting back to a scoring position than we were preventing them from getting there.
“We had too many guys with light sticks, too many guys playing a light game, and that’s not the way we’re going to have some success. So it’s unacceptable, and what’s happened tonight, I think we probably deserved.
“They were the hungrier team, and we didn’t respond well. Too many light guys.”
The Bruins got off to a slow start — not a problem in those two successful road games — but they managed to rebound. They finished the frame strong. Though they fell behind midway through the period as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare eluded Rask with a second-attempt backhand, the Bruins came storming back.
With 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the first, Brett Connolly struck for his first goal as a Bruin, skating around the back of the net and camping out by the far post for the rebound of a Patrice Bergeron spot. He put it past Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth to tie the game.
“[I] got a lot of chances in the first four games, and it’s a matter of sticking with it now and kind of riding the wave a little bit,” Connolly said. “I think that one maybe made up for the chances I wasn’t able to finish earlier [this year], but it was very nice to see that one go in.”
Less than two minutes later, however, the Flyers reclaimed the lead, capitalizing on a bad line change by Boston.
But the Bruins would get another chance. They would get a power play, which has been a lethal weapon for them through five games of this young season. Once again, it did not disappoint.
After Claude Giroux went to the box for high-sticking Brett Connolly with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the period, the Bruins went to work. David Krejci fed the puck down low across the crease, and Patrice Bergeron batted it out of midair and past Neuvirth to re-tie the game.
It was quite the eventful day for Bergeron, who was unable to attend morning skate given the birth of his first child, Zack.
“There’s no word that can really describe that; it’s an amazing feeling and it’s still kind of surreal,” Bergeron said. “I’m trying to soak everything in and spend some time with my son. So it’s been a great day, I guess, and I had to get focused for tonight.”
The Bruins continued to press heading into the second period. It would have been easy to let up. They knew they would be down a man for the remainder of the night, as Zac Rinaldo was assessed a charging major and a game misconduct in the waning seconds of the first.
“I saw the puck coming around the boards, and I thought he still had full control of the puck, and I just tried to deliver a body check,” Rinaldo said afterward. “That was about it.
“It’s unfortunate that [Couturier] is hurt. That’s the last thing that I want to do, is to hurt someone, and during the game, that’s not my first priority at all — especially someone that I know personally. So that was the last thing on my mind, was to hurt him.”
The Bruins knew they would start the second frame on a five-minute penalty kill. But instead of letting up following the penalty to Rinaldo, the Bruins took their first lead of the game.
Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson created a 2-on-2 at the end of the penalty kill, and as Eriksson shot from the high slot, Kelly cut to the front of the net and deflected the puck past Steve Mason, who replaced the injured Neuvirth to start the second.
Jimmy Hayes increased Boston’s lead to 4-2 four minutes later, cutting hard down the right wing and wristing the puck on net from the very bottom of the right circle. It snuck through Mason’s pads.
Through the first three home games of this young season, second periods have haunted the Bruins. This time, they got out of that frame unscathed. In fact, in this case, it was their strongest period of all.
The third period, however, proved to be the problem this time.
The life seemed to be sucked out of the Bruins after a no-goal call on a David Pastrnak bid 6 1/2 minutes into the frame. Pastrnak put a cross-crease feed from Colin Miller on net, and replays proved inconclusive in determining whether or not the puck crossed the goal line, but the original no-goal call stood.
From there, the Flyers took off.
About 90 seconds after the no-goal call on Boston, Philadelphia pulled within a goal, courtesy of Giroux. Three minutes after that, a defensive miscue offered the Flyers a perfect opportunity in transition, and Wayne Simmonds capitalized. He raced down the left wing and snapped the puck past Rask — top shelf, gloveside — to tie the game.
“You just have to learn how to play with a lead,” Rask said. “You have a two-goal lead, and you try to eliminate all the mistakes out there, and you can’t make those. I think when we make those, they seem to end up costing us every time. So [we] just have to try to eliminate that.
“Mistakes are going to happen, but I think we just have to pay attention in the crucial times of the game. In the third period, 10 minutes left, try to make the strong plays and not make those mistakes. And I think after that they’re very preventable.”
In overtime, another defensive miscue — this time, on a hooking penalty taken by Ryan Spooner — cost the Bruins. Giroux won the game for Philadelphia 33 seconds into the man advantage.
“You know the effort is there; it’s been there for all four games,” Kelly said. “It’s just, the focus needs to be sharper throughout the course of 60 minutes. There’s times in all four games where we’ve played extremely well, done a lot of good things, but just to maintain that focus and that composure for 60 minutes seems to be an issue right now.”
With the loss, Rask falls to 1-3-1 on the season with a goals-against average of 4.40. He, like the rest of his Bruins teammates, is still searching for his first taste of success at home.
“I just think Tuukka has to stop the puck,” Julien said. “There’s nothing that’s different, and there may be mistakes, but that’s why you have a goaltender — to stop those. And I don’t think he’s making excuses, either; he’s pretty good about owning up to his play. But we need to be better as a group, from the goaltender on out.
“They had a lot of time to make plays, and we were soft in battles, and they were hungrier than we were, and that’s the reality of the situation, here. That’s why we didn’t win tonight.”
Boston generated some momentum during last week’s two-game road trip. They intended on sustaining it. They intended on building upon the positives they generated over the course of those two games.
For two periods on Wednesday night, it looked like they had done just that. It looked like they were en route to the kind of come-from-behind character win this team has been known for in the past.
Instead, though, the Bruins did the opposite of what they have been known for. They squandered a two-goal lead in the third period, and it leaves them still in search of their first home victory of the season.
“For whatever reason, we played two good games [on the road] — solid 60 minute games — and right now, that seems to be the issue at home,” Kelly said. “Obviously, that’s something that we have to work on and get back going.
“We’ll have success at home. I’m confident in this team and confident in our fans, and we’ll make this a difficult place to play.”