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Bruins Head into All-Star Break After Disappointing Night in Denver

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

DENVER - Bruins' Hall of Famer John "Chief" Bucyk had a simple thought for Wednesday night's game in Colorado against the Avalanche that finished off a back-to-back and served as the team's final test before the NHL's All-Star break.

"A win tonight would make the trip home nice," Bucyk said with a slight smile, sitting in Chris Kelly's stall in the visiting team room at the Pepsi Center.

Twelve hours later, the Bruins were headed out of town to begin their break with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Avs.

They played a strong defensive game, with their textbook layers all over the ice. They were tasked with killing five penalties, including three in a row, with back-to-back 5-on-3 chances for Colorado. They killed them all, backed by another one of Tuukka Rask's sharp night between the pipes.

Brad Marchand returned after his two-game suspension and fired in his team-leading 13th goal of the season, off a slick setup on David Krejci's 400th NHL point, to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the third period.

Torey Krug had evened it up 1-1 early in the second with his ninth of the season after a buzzer-beater from Jarome Iginla beat Rask with just 0.4 left on the clock in the first period.

Dougie Hamilton stood up for himself and dropped the gloves with Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog for his first NHL fight, sending the message that he can fight his own battles.

The game had the makings of a nice trip home for "Chief" and the Bruins, and although they picked up a point to continue a stretch of earning at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games, the locker room was left disappointed.

"It is. It's pretty - obviously, disappointing," said Rask, who stopped 34 of 36 shots through 65 minutes. "But we battled hard, we had a lot of penalty kills and too bad to get scored on the last few minutes like that, but we played a good game."

"Then, you know, shootout, put that on the same pile as the last ones."

Colorado scored with an extra attacker to even the game at 2-2 with just 1:45 left in regulation, when Ryan O'Reilly entered the slot and put home a backhander from the low slot. Rask was down trying to search for the puck. Zdeno Chara was also down on the ice and couldn't help take away the net.

"And at the end of the game, we need players to be more aware that when they pull their goalie and we have to collapse better and we let a guy come into the slot there and score," acknowledged Head Coach Claude Julien.

"And that line [of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Craig Cunningham] had been out there for a while and we just couldn't seem to clear the puck out to get the right lines out there for the last couple of minutes left."

"We played a good 58 minutes of hockey," said Krug. "And killed a lot of penalties and Tuukks came up big for us in some key moments. They just outbattled us at the end and they scored the goal in the shootout that mattered."

Nathan MacKinnon beat Rask in the opening round of the shootout and it served as the only one that hit the back of the net.

"Yeah, it's definitely disappointing, considering we were up with a couple minutes left," said Marchand, who decided to keep it in perspective. "We did get a point. It could be worse, we couldn't have gotten any."

"And now we're going on the break, I think we've got to be happy how we battled back and got ourselves in a playoff position and we're playing good hockey, so hopefully we can go into this break and come out of it rested and playing great hockey."

Boston heads into the break with a seven-point lead over Florida for the second Wild Card playoff spot in the East. Both Boston and Washington has 57 points, with the Capitals having two games in hand.

The Black and Gold have won six of their past eight games, dating back to a 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh, with only one regulation loss to Columbus. They allowed just 12 goals in that span. They have re-established their identity and their team game. They can pick up those areas where they left off once regular season play resumes for them on January 29 in New York against the Islanders.

"Well, I think it's all about attitude and the guys have the right attitude," Julien said. "There's a lot of disappointment in there right now and yet, the effort tonight was pretty good. And for a back-to-back, like I said, and the situation that we were in [with the penalties]."

"And it's unfortunate, again, we have to look at ourselves here and that first goal with 0.3 seconds left, it's poor management. We had the puck at least three, maybe four seconds there with 27 seconds left where we could have done something much better and we didn't, so that's our own fault."

For the 25th time this season, the Bruins allowed the first goal of the game, but for the 19th time, they tied it up 1-1.

David Pastrnak took a pass from Milan Lucic off the rush, and fired a hard shot that went off Lucic and right to Krug, who quickly put it with plenty of net to work with thanks to Semyon Varlamov scrambling in the crease.

"It's a disappointing finish to a good little stretch that we've had," said Krug. "But we have to understand that we're playing some solid hockey and we're going to continue that after break."

"We feel like we're starting to head in the right direction, and it's about playing simple, Bruin hockey and getting back to our identity and we've done that in the past probably seven games or so."

The Bruins second period penalty woes started after Krug scored his tying goal.

Rask faced a tough break, when he went to clear the puck from the crease and deflected it out of play, taking a delay of game penalty. Then Adam McQuaid went to bat the puck out of the air and out of the zone, but it went up into the netting. Delay of game.

After killing off the 21-second 5-on-3, Kevan Miller was whistled for hooking as he battled with Cody McLeod towards the net.

Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron successfully killed the 43 seconds of 5-on-3 time for the Avs, backed by Rask.

The Bruins only allowed five shots on goal during the 4:58 of Colorado's consecutive power play time and stole momentum from the strong penalty kills.

"That was a momentum boost for us in that second period," said Krug. "I know one in particular was short-lived but the second one was about 50 seconds and the guys did a great job of taking away what they wanted and when they were able to get the shots that they wanted, Tuukks came up big. You always rely on your goaltender to be your best penalty killer and he was that for us."

The Bruins were tasked with another penalty kill early in third, with Pastrnak called for a slash, and they went to work with layers and protection around the front of the net.

"What were you guys doing right on the penalty kill for the second straight night?" Julien was asked by a reporter.

"Everything," he responded. "Right now we're just making some smart decisions. We're in good position, especially in the D zone, I don't think we're getting caught running around and I think that's important."

"We're compact and switches are good, and even on the entries we're winning battles and clearing the pucks, so I think right now, there's a lot of confidence in our penalty kill and it's starting to show."

The only fall-out from the penalty kills was that they left the Bruins, on their second end of the back-to-back, fairly gassed when it came to overtime, an area where they usually dominate teams four-on-four.

"Those penalties took its toll on us and it just seemed like we weren't going to get any power plays there in the first two periods," said Julien, referencing just the one power play for the Bruins through the first 45 minutes of the game. "Your guys work hard, they kill penalties but yet at the end of the day, they're burnt out and then you run out of gas at the end with two-in-two and having to go through all of that stuff no doubt took its toll."

If there's consolation in this effort, it's that the Bruins' hard work on the penalty kill also extends to their five-on-five game, where they have clamped down defensively.

"Everyone's just really bearing down and focusing on their jobs, we're putting a lot of emphasis on that and making sure we're supporting each other," said Marchand. "And when we do that, we're a tough team to play against."

"Right now, it just seems like everyone is focused on doing their job, playing their part, and it's showing."

So, with that, the Bruins head into their five-day break.

As they headed to the bus on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron wished each Bruin a good break, and they in turn wished him luck at the All-Star Game in Columbus. it will be his first time at the festivities. He'll enjoy the experience, but then be glad to join his rejuvenated teammates for the remaining 33 regular season games.

The team feels it's on the right track, and wants to continue that way when returning from the break.

"We have layers all over the ice and we're creating more offense too, so we're heading in the right direction," said Rask. "We feel like our game's getting better, but we still have to keep going and try and get better every day."

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