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Bruins Look to Rebuild Close-Out Mentality After Sabotaging Another Strong Start

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — The Bruins have had no problem starting in games.

They struck in the first period for the 10th straight game on Thursday night at TD Garden, as they hosted the Colorado Avalanche to begin a season-high five-game homestand.

They jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 1:12 in when Zdeno Chara fired one in amid havoc around the crease. Ryan Spooner made it 2-0 at just 5:51 into the opening frame with the League’s top power play converting once again.

The problem wasn’t the start.

For the third time at home this season, the Bruins saw their two-goal lead evaporate. They allowed three unanswered goals from the Avalanche as they dropped a 3-2 loss.

“Well, it’s the same old, same old I guess,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said as he started his press conference following the loss. “You know, we’re off to a good start again and you’ve got a 2-0 lead and instead of continuing to play your game, you start seeing some long passes that end up in icings, you saw some turnovers at the blueline.”

“So we’re being a little stubborn right now, not respecting our game plan for the whole game.”

The Bruins had no trouble getting up 2-0 and even successfully killed a penalty shortly thereafter, but they then went a stretch of more than 11 minutes between shots in the first period.

Carl Soderberg made it a one-goal game on Colorado’s third shot of the night with 7:52 left in the first period. He found himself wide open at the right circle after Blake Comeau easily wrapped around the goal following a dump-in. Tuukka Rask, starting his 11th game of the season, didn’t have much of a chance.

“I think it’s mental,” said Rask. “Just be ready to play and just work hard and try to focus on making good plays and not too many mistakes. I think that’s it. The skill is there. We make mistakes and they end up costing us games or goals and obviously that feels bad, but that’s just the reality and we have to be better.”

The Avs found their legs after Soderberg’s goal. The Bruins let up.

With 28.2 to go in the first period, Joonas Kemppainen went down to block at shot from Francois Beauchemin, with the puck hitting his toe, sailing up and changing direction over Rask’s outstretched glove. To Rask, it looked like it was going about 10 feet over the net.

The second period was broken up by penalties, most notably Gabriel Landeskog being assessed a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head on Brad Marchand. The Bruins received a three-minute power play out of it. An agitated Marchand skated over and punched Landeskog after the blindside hit.

“Things happen quick — I know that I’ve been there. I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Marchand said postgame. “I don’t think he’s a dirty player so, you know, it’s hockey. It is what it is.”

Even with the Bruins letting up in the first, and a fairly back-and-forth middle frame from time on the penalty kill, it was a 2-2 game heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation — in their building.

“I thought in the third period, it was more of one team a little bit more determined than the other,” said Julien. “We didn’t win enough battles, we didn’t win enough races. This is our building and we have to win in our own building, and we let it get away.”

“We definitely have to find a way to clean that up,” said Marchand.

“It’s not going to come overnight but we just have to find that character in the room and understand that when we’re down by a goal or two, we can’t just sit back. We need to make sure that we dig a little deeper.”

Boston put two shots on goal in the first 3:30 of the third. Patrice Bergeron finally fired another one on Avs goaltender Reto Berra midway through the period, after Matt Duchene had already given Colorado its first lead of the game — one that would stick for the 3-2 victory.

The Black & Gold were outshot 10-5 in the final frame.

“Our first periods have been great, second periods have not been good at all and third periods so-so,” Spooner said. “So I think for our team right now, just trying to play the whole game like we do in the first.”

“For some reason, the games at home have been a lot worse than the games on the road, so we’re trying to sort that out right now.”

It boils down to the Bruins re-capturing that mentality that they had during their 6-0-1 stretch in October. Without looking at opponents, scheduling and whether the game was home or away, the Bruins found a common thread — they were all working hard as a unit and kept pushing to close out games.

Predominantly, a two-goal lead for the Bruins means a night over for their opponent.

Since the 2011-12 season, the Bruins are 164-11-8 in games in which they have had a two-goal lead. They are now 7-2-1 in situations like that this season alone. Those three losses have all come at home.

While the trend at home cannot be ignored, as Thursday night’s defeat put them at 1-5-1 at TD Garden this season, the overall trend for the Black & Gold right now is inconsistency.

“I think the effort has been there, I think we are working hard, but I guess you have to work smart too and try to eliminate the mistakes and play mature hockey,” said Rask. “ Sometimes, especially at home, we just haven’t done that. It’s just the reality.”

How do the Bruins rebuild that close-out mentality?

“I think it’s something that you have to work on — I think that when you’re in those positions, it’s staying strong, staying focused on your game and continuing to do the things that got you to that point,” said Adam McQuaid. “So it’s not veering off of what’s given you success and sticking to the game plan.”

After closing out October strong, the Bruins are 1-4-0 in the month of November. They have four straight home games now to try and build some consistency within their game.

“As a group, we have to figure it out,” said Julien. “You’re so proud of your team one night because they come in and they play hard and you win hockey games and tell yourself this is the identity of our team, this is how we’ve got to play, and then the next night it’s not there.”

“Not every night’s going to be perfect, you know. Some nights you’ve got to grind it out a little bit more and this is what we should have done tonight when we didn’t seem to be in sync.”

“We kind of lost our game, getting pucks deep, and moving our feet,” said Dennis Seidenberg, who made his season debut after recovering from preseason back surgery. “They took it to us and scored two goals in the first coming back and then we were just kind of flat it seemed like, and we just couldn’t get it back on track.”

The effort is not awash. This is a hard-working group that has showed promise.

“Yeah, we play a lot of good games and bad games,” said David Krejci. “It’s in there [in this room], you know. The group is pretty close. We get along well off the ice. So there’s no reason why we can’t put a few games of solid effort in a row.”

“You’ve seen it in games this year, where we push and we push the pace forward and then we have success,” said Julien. “But there’s some games it’s just not there.”

“I think we have to be careful that we don’t take too long because it could be too late, so we have to figure it out sooner than later and that’s what we’re trying to do here with our hockey club… We’ve got to try and get some strings of good games going and build some sort of identity that you’re capable of holding onto game after game.”

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