BOSTON – The Bruins entered Thursday night’s game with the Carolina Hurricanes riding high. A successful stretch against some of the league’s elite had left the Black & Gold with plenty of momentum as they returned to the TD Garden ice.
But for much of the night, the Bruins struggled to find their legs or the energy that proved to be a hallmark in recent days.
The Bruins managed to twice overcome one-goal deficits, despite those difficulties, but it wasn’t enough as the Black & Gold fell to the Hurricanes, 3-2, in overtime on Phillip Di Giuseppe’s goal just 1:30 into the extra session.
“It’s one of those games that they got the better of us most of the night,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We had some more shots than they did but it wasn’t quality shots and we didn’t get the results. We’re not as happy as we’d like to be.”
Torey Krug acknowledged that the stretch of six games over the last nine days – including four straight overtime contests – may have taken its toll.
“Emotionally you have to make sure there is no let down,” said Krug. "Unfortunately we didn’t start the game with it and if you wait too long you’re going to fall behind like we did.
“You play in these emotional games every single night and it just wears on you and wears on you. We’ll take the experience we had last year from these games and hopefully grow up from it and learn from it and make sure we’re ready to go for Saturday."
There is, however, a silver lining. By securing a point, the Bruins moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time this season.
“I don’t think we’re going to make that big of a deal in being [in] first place,” said head coach Claude Julien. “It’s nice to be there. I think right now, we’re really looking at our game and in that dressing room right now, we’re not happy. We lost a game tonight, and even if it means that point got us in first, we’re certainly not satisfied with that.”
The accomplishment does signify how far the Bruins have come since the beginning of the season.
“Honestly, after the tough start we had this year…that’s pretty impressive,” said David Krejci. “We’ll appreciate that more tomorrow.”
Carolina’s winning tally came early in overtime after some confusion during a line change. With Bergeron heading to the bench, Boston native Noah Hanifin sent a long stretch pass through the neutral zone to Jeff Skinner, who was waiting at the offensive blue line.
Skinner’s breakaway chance was stopped by Tuukka Rask (25 saves), but Di Giuseppe was there to put home the rebound.
“It was a tough read on my part,” said Bergeron. “Their guy went for a change, I tried to go at the same time as him to hurry and got caught in between.”
The game got to extra time after the Bruins utilized a stretch pass of their own. Just under six minutes into the third period, Krejci picked up the puck in the defensive zone and whipped a pass off the boards to David Pastrnak at the opposing blue line.
Pastrnak stayed onside and had Loui Eriksson charging hard to the net. Pastrnak looked as if he was going to pass it over before firing one short side over the shoulder of Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward.
“He’s got good speed, he always makes things happen,” Krejci said of Pastrnak. “He’s got a good shot as well, kind of looked Loui off and put it upstairs. He can definitely put the puck in the net, just [have to] give it to him at full speed.”
The Hurricanes got on the board first, early in the opening period, on a power-play tally from Elias Lindholm at 5:06. Bergeron was called for a high-stick, before Lindholm fired one from the top of the right circle off of a pass from Hanifin.
The shot trickled through Rask’s five-hole with just three seconds remaining on the man-advantage.
“I really think our guys struggled tonight with their skating game, and sometimes those are the effects of coming off a back to back, and you don’t have the legs that you’d want,” said Julien.
The Bruins tied the score at 5:13 of the second period on Eriksson’s 25th goal of the season. With Lindholm in the box for slashing, Krug retrieved the puck behind the Bruins goal and raced up the right wing.
After entering the offensive zone, Krug dropped the puck to Bergeron at the hash mark and steamed toward the front of the net. Bergeron fired a cross-ice pass to Eriksson who touched it into the open net.
Carolina wasted little time in regaining the lead. Just over three minutes later – after Ryan Spooner was denied by Ward on a breakaway – the Hurricanes turned the puck back up ice and Chris Terry’s rebound found the stick of Nathan Gerbe, who put it past Rask for a 2-1 lead.
“It’s not what they did to us,” said Julien. “It’s what we didn’t do ourselves…so let’s chalk it up as a tough loss, but a good point, and let’s move on here and prepare for Saturday [against the New York Islanders].
“If I was a betting man, I think our team’s going to be much better on Saturday.”