It started like they wanted it to, with high energy, plenty of chances, a strong power play and David Krejci putting them up 1-0 over the Winnipeg Jets just 5:36 in.
It ended with a 6-2 loss in Game No. 1, a result of defensive breakdowns and poor decision making.
Krejci’s emphatic fist pump following the first goal of 2015-16 felt like a precursor of how the game would ensue. His pace controlled the opening frame. The Bruins asserted themselves, forechecked hard and caused turnovers like the one that led to Krejci’s tally, courtesy of David Pastrnak’s work along the boards. They outshot the Jets 14-6.
The rest of the game, however, did not trend in that direction.
“It would’ve been nice to come out of there with a better lead than we did after the first,” Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame from TD Garden. “With the type of opportunities that we had, it should’ve been a two- or three-goal period, but we misfired or missed those opportunities and allowed them to stay in the game.”
The Jets came out in the second and took over the game.
“We started making some defensive mistakes — whether it was coverage, layers, or whether there were decisions with the puck or D-zone awareness,” said Julien. “We made all of those mistakes which resulted in goals against.”
At 5:26 into the second period, Dustin Byfuglien caused a turnover in the neutral zone, quickly transitioned into the Bruins’ zone 3-on-2 and fed Mark Scheifele, who fired a quick shot from the slot into the top corner behind Tuukka Rask to tie the game at 1-1. Krejci and linemates Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey were caught up ice ready to head on the attack.
“We got away from our defensive game and that’s what happened,” said Krejci. “We gave them way too many chances and they did a good job of putting them in the net.”
Less than four minutes later, Matt Irwin had his pocket picked by Andrew Ladd while the defenseman was handling the puck behind Rask. Ladd fed Blake Wheeler for the bang-bang play and a 2-1 lead.
The Bruins continued to generate chances in the middle frame like they did in the first, with Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly nearly converting, but they couldn’t find the tying goal. The missed opportunities were coupled with turnovers and lost coverage.
Late in the second, the Jets took advantage of a Bruins’ miscue when a 2-on-1 developed right in front of Rask with just Zach Trotman in front. A give-and-go between Adam Lowry and Drew Stafford ended with Stafford putting it upstairs to make it 3-1 Jets.
With Captain Zdeno Chara out of the lineup — though close to returning — as he recovers from a preseason upper-body injury and Dennis Seideneberg out for another six weeks after back surgery, the Bruins rolled out a back end of Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Trotman, Irwin and Joe Morrow.
“You know what, it’s not just [Chara] being out of the lineup,” said Rask. “Guys are going to get hurt. We have to have guys step up, and we have to respect our game plan defensively, offensively, and we’ll be OK. When we don’t, these kind of things happen.”
“It’s not about youth, it’s not about the young D’s; it’s about our game without the puck,” Julien said.
“It’s too easy to point the finger at them… I don’t think it’s necessarily D’s, I know we’re young and we expect to have some challenges there but I think we have to look at our games as a whole tonight and see where those mistakes were made. It was more than just the back end.”
What the Bruins were able to do in the first — playing strong defensively and playing with pace on the attack — they did not replicate for the the final 40 minutes.
“I think we might have gotten a little excited here about our offense and then forgot about the other part of our game,” said Julien.
“There was maybe a lack of respect on the other side of the game. That’s where it ended up costing us.”
The Bruins opened the third period with fire. Pastrnak sniped in a shot from the left circle after opening up like he was going to pass to Matt Beleskey and fooling Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
It reduced the deficit to 3-2. Jimmy Hayes kept the momentum with two chances. “Let’s Go Bruins” boomed down from the awakened crowd.
But the wind didn’t stay in the Bruins’ sails for long.
Chris Thorburn got a step behind the Bruins defense after lost coverage, and when he was tied up with a backchecking Krejci, the puck glanced off Krejci’s stick and through Rask. The goal killed Boston’s momentum.
About five minutes later, the Jets made it 5-2. Torey Krug was tied up in front and a shot ricocheted off of his skate and into the back of the net.
Winnipeg went up 6-2 off an empty-netter with 3:38 to play in regulation.
The Bruins were left to take any encouraging signs — chances created, lines starting to form chemistry, the energy they came out with in the first — but also to learn from their mistakes.
“We created a lot of chances, but then also gave up some chances and rushes,” said Rask. “First game of the year, things might happen, but obviously going forward it cannot become a habit if we want to win games.”
As is the case throughout an 82-game season, the Bruins will have a chance to correct their mistakes on Saturday, when they host the rival Montreal Canadiens.
“You know, too many times we’ve done that last year,” Bergeron said of quickly turning the page. “We’ve got to take what’s good, but also what’s bad and fix it. We can’t just sit here and say that we generated some good chances and what not. We’ve got to find some results and we’ve got to keep harping on that [Friday] and be better on Saturday.”