Nobody expected the Bruins’ job to be easy on Saturday night. Nobody expected it to be easy for either side, and it wasn’t. Boston and Florida came into the game separated by a mere five points in the Eastern Conference standings, and both of them knew Saturday night’s matchup was a must-win if they each wanted to keep their playoff aspirations alive.
In the end, the Panthers came out with two points and the Bruins got just one as they fell 2-1 in a shootout.
“I think that we can be satisfied with the effort,” said defenseman Zdeno Chara. “Everybody showed really good efforts throughout the whole game. It was a really close, tight-checking game on both sides. Sometimes, you’re going to have those games where it’s going to be 1-1, 2-2, and it’s going to be whoever’s going to score that last goal, and then defend it or it goes all the way to the shootouts or overtimes.
“Those are the kind of games that you always have to put a lot of emphasis on playing tight defensively.”
That, the Bruins did. In total, they had 27 chances to the Panthers’ 25. Both Tuukka Rask and Roberto Luongo held strong in net in a Game 7 atmosphere, fending off the other side, sending it to extra time. There were not many mistakes on either side, and neither side lagged in compete level at any point in the first 65 minutes of play.
But in the end, the Bruins fell in yet another shootout, and though the effort was there — though the desperation was there — they didn’t get the two points they so desperately needed.
“The whole 60-plus [minutes], we had our chances to take the lead and to win the game, and we’ve got to find a way to do that,” said forward Patrice Bergeron, who netted Boston’s only goal. “I thought it was a hard-fought game, but we definitely need the extra point there.
“Yeah, [winning] the shootouts are huge, but finding a way in the first 60 or 65 minutes is even more important.”
The Bruins got off to the start they wanted. They pressured the Panthers early, outshooting them 7-3 in the first eight minutes. They killed an early penalty, assessed to Dennis Seidenberg for goalie interference, and the line of Ryan Spooner, Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak submitted a terrific answering shift after the penalty.
But it was the Panthers who pounced first. With about five minutes left in the first period, Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes took a centering pass from Dave Bolland and tipped it past Rask to give Florida the 1-0 lead.
The Bruins didn’t waste much time notching the equalizer in the second. After Bolland went to the box for high-sticking Chris Kelly, Boston’s power play, which seemed to have rediscovered its stride two nights earlier against Ottawa, capitalized once again. Bergeron, wide open in the high slot, took a perfect feed from Spooner and went five-hole on Luongo to knot the score at 1 about three minutes into the frame.
The goal gave Bergeron the sixth 20-goal season of his career.
Rask made a huge stop on a Dave Bolland bid on the goal line with about seven minutes remaining in regulation in order to prolong the game into overtime and, eventually, a shootout. There, none of Boston’s shooters — not Bergeron, Brad Marchand or Spooner — could evade Luongo, but Florida’s Brandon Pirri beat Rask in the second round to propel the Panthers to victory.
“It was a good effort defensively,” Rask said. “[We] created some offense, too. Tight game, nobody wanted to make that mistake there, but at the end of the day, wins matter, and we were a little short again.”
The Bruins came into Saturday’s game knowing that they had to be more desperate — more competitive, less passive — if they wanted to remain in the playoff race. In Rask’s eyes, they did that against the Panthers.
“We talked about [the desperation],” Rask said. “We showed it. But still, wins matter, and we didn’t get that. We’ve just got to find a way to win the games.”
Julien made changes to his lineup for the game, slotting in Brian Ferlin on the fourth line and scratching Reilly Smith, who struggled the last time out against Ottawa. Ferlin — a native of Jacksonville — was given the opportunity to play in his home state, in front of a group of family and friends in attendance. The only thing missing from the night — for him and for the rest of the Black & Gold — was one additional point.
“Every point helps,” Ferlin said. “I think we’ve got 10 games left now, and you’ve got to get your points when they come. Two’s better than one, obviously, but every little point helps, at the end of the day. We’ve just got to keep playing hard for 60 minutes and have everyone going — no weak links out there — and I think we’ll get the results we want.”
The Bruins were also forced to play with five defensemen from the end of the second period on, as Dougie Hamilton left the bench after taking a hard hit along the boards. He did not return, and after the game, Julien had no further update on his condition.
Saturday’s result once again left the Bruins with a loss in the shootout, marking their second loss in that fashion this week. It has been an Achilles heel of sorts for Boston this season, and it once again landed them just short of the desired result in a critical playoff-type game on Saturday night.
“The battle was good, the game was a tight game like it was supposed to be, but again, we’re basing ourselves right now on results, and we got a point — we want to get two,” Julien said. “So we’re still disappointed with the loss.”
Saturday’s result even led Rask to wonder whether the Bruins’ fate two weeks from now could come down to one or two shootouts that they could have won but didn’t.
“I really hope it doesn’t come to the shootout at the end,” he said, “but they’re not our strong [suit], and haven’t been able to get better at those. It’s something, if it happens to be a do-or-die situation, we have to find a way to win.”
After an Ottawa victory over the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, the Bruins are now just one point ahead of the Senators for the final playoff spot in the East. The Senators have a game in hand. The Bruins will now head to Tampa Bay to close out the tail end of this back-to-back, and to end a grueling stretch of 11 games in 18 days.
So once again, Sunday’s game against the Lightning will present an opportunity — another one. Though the Bruins did not capitalize on the opportunities in front of them against Ottawa on Thursday or against Florida on Saturday, they can redeem themselves on Sunday. They can snap a four-game losing skid. They can reassert themselves in the playoff race. Given Saturday’s effort, they know they have something to build on — a sound defensive game, a rediscovered desperation — as they head to Tampa Bay.
And with a win, they can set themselves up for success for the final nine games of the season.
“I think both teams played pretty tight defensively, and there were obviously some big saves by both goaltenders, but it was a playoff-type game, and I thought our guys came and competed hard,” Julien said. “At the end, you’re still disappointed for not winning a hockey game. We’re looking for those wins that are hard to come by, and we’ve just got to stick with it, and hopefully we get the same kind of effort [Sunday] with a different outcome.”