As such, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask stood in front of his stall in the visiting dressing room at PNC Arena and took a moment before attempting to explain the frustration that stems from a third consecutive loss in extra time and the team’s second shootout loss in three games.
“I think you can use my interviews from the past couple of games,” he finally said. “I don’t want to repeat myself. You saw what happened out there in this game. So not enough.”
The Bruins’ 2-1 shootout loss to Carolina on Sunday afternoon was, in some ways, more frustrating than the two losses that came before. The Bruins went 17 minutes without a shot to start the game. After a stronger second, they managed just two shots in the third period. Rask made 33 saves in regulation to keep his team in the game, but in the end, the Bruins could not generate enough offense — or enough opportunities — to take two points.
“We’re not getting the results we want, and we self-inflict a lot of that stuff on ourselves — when we get a chance, we have to bury them,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “You see guys just out of character, trying to do too much, and those are signs of not being focused and doing the right thing.
“It’s OK to want to help your team, but the best way you can help your team is by doing your job, and doing it well. We’ve got to get everybody on the same page, here. You’ve got to give credit to the other team; they were fresh, they played well, but it took us forever to get going in that first period. Then we got ourselves in a tie game. We had an open net there at one point; we missed an open net.
“We got some chances; although we didn’t get a ton, you’ve got to bury those when you’re in that situation. Three in a row, now, with coming up [with] just one point.”
So how does this happen, coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to Ottawa — a loss after which the Bruins vowed to bring everything they had to the ice as soon as the puck dropped on Sunday?
“I have no idea,” Rask said. “Honestly, it was embarrassing. I have never seen anything like that. Seventeen minutes without a shot on net… Usually, when you play a back-to-back game, the team that played in back-to-back games is the sharpest one [at] the start because they’re still kind of hyped up from the game before, but not in our case.
“Got better in the second, but not nearly as good as we should be.”
While the Bruins struggled out of the gates, the Hurricanes — who last played on Friday night in a 2-1 win over Philadelphia — did not. They pressured Boston and they pressured Rask, and they were rewarded for it when Patrick Dwyer got them on the board, pouncing on a loose puck after Rask turned away Jay McClement’s wrister from the slot.
The goal gave Carolina a 1-0 lead with just 34 seconds remaining in the first frame.
“I mean, it’s not the way we should play,” said forward Gregory Campbell, who dropped the gloves with Brad Malone early in the frame in an effort to manufacture some energy. “It’s up to us, as players, to prepare ourselves. The gameplan’s in place and it’s pretty simple, so when we’re on our heels like that, there’s got to be something done to change the momentum, and we didn’t find it till three minutes left in the first period. That’s a little bit too late.”
The Bruins collected themselves during the first intermission. They were stronger in the second, perhaps as a result of some line switches. On Saturday, Julien flipped his top two left wings; on Sunday, it was the right wings. Reilly Smith skated with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, while Seth Griffith skated with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Both lines began to generate more zone time, and eventually, one of their chances found the back of the net.
With 5:25 left in the period, Dougie Hamilton corralled the puck at the offensive blue line and dumped it behind the net to keep the play alive. Marchand picked it up down low, brought it around the back of the net and found Bergeron in the right circle, who one-timed it past former Bruin Anton Khudobin to tie the game.
But as the Bruins continued to get their opportunities, they proved unable to capitalize on them. As Julien said, there weren’t many, but when there are so few opportunities, it becomes even more imperative to bury them.
“It’s hard to really pinpoint one thing,” Bergeron said. “Definitely frustrating, and definitely not what you need if you want a result. You need some traffic, you need some shots if you want some goals. I don’t need to tell you that, but it’s true, and it’s part of what’s been missing, is that we didn’t generate enough shots or create enough chances by getting the loose pucks in front.”
The Bruins’ third period resembled the first far more than it resembled the second. They registered just two shots on goal to Carolina’s nine. Rask continued to stand tall in net as the game continued past regulation for the third straight time.
“We see the play, we don’t make it, and then it’s too late to make a play,” Rask said. “We try to force it, it’s a turnover, and we spend a minute in our own end… That’s just how it is.
“It’s just mental. It’s not like the skill is gone. It’s mental.”
And after neither team could convert in overtime, it went to a shootout, where none of Boston’s three shooters could beat Khudobin. Carolina’s Eric Staal beat Rask in the third round to end it in the Hurricanes’ favor.
“It’s definitely frustrating — I think that’s an understatement,” Bergeron said. “The bottom line, at this point — especially at this time of year, given our position in the standings — it’s about results. It’s about finding a way, and whether it’s in a shootout or overtime or whatnot, we’ve got to bear down and get it.”
Boston came into this week with the intention of taking maximum points from three divisional opponents. They got four of six. After Saturday’s overtime loss, they talked about the significance of taking two points from a Carolina team that sits in last place in the Eastern Conference.
At the end of the day, they were able to get one, and as the Bruins have always said, one is never any consolation when you are on the outside of the playoff race looking in and every game is a must-win.
“You’ve got to just wake up tomorrow, come to practice and work hard,” Campbell said. “You can’t play teams by the standings anymore. Every team is good, and every team comes to play. When we’re in a situation like we are, trying to get points and wins, specifically, preparation has to be there right from the start.”
Before the game, the Bruins internally discussed the significance of treating this game as a must-win, but they weren’t able to produce the results. They weren’t able to generate that much-needed desperation in either the first period or the third, when they needed it most.
“That’s what happens when you have teams that are maybe desperately needing points: They feel it, and you see that players care,” said defenseman Zdeno Chara. “We all care, and maybe we try to do too much out there. That’s what happens.”
Moving forward, the Bruins know that if they want to climb the standings, they must be able to find a way to get two points. They must be able to turn their talk into action.
“When things are not going your way, you kind of try to do too much instead of doing less and going back to basics and the foundation of your game, which is just [to] play passionate hockey, make sure the effort is there and work your butt off every night,” Rask said. “That’s what we have to do. We can’t keep forcing plays because that’s not going to turn things around.
“Hard work is going to turn things around, and keeping things simple is going to turn things around.”