Head Coach Claude Julien eyed it that way, and so did the players.
For most of the night, the Black & Gold were even with one of the top teams in the West. Both teams played disciplined. There wasn’t much time or space. Both sides had to go to battle.
But the Bruins came up just short, falling 2-0 to St. Louis, with two breakaway goals allowed in the third period. It marked the first time the League’s second-best offense had been shut out this season, in game No. 33.
With the loss, Boston wasn’t able to achieve their goal of jumping Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division.
“We were ready to try to finish on a good note,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We did have a few good looks that we could have beared down a little better and that would have given us momentum, but yeah, I liked the way that I sensed the room before the game.”
The focus was there for the Bruins in this game. The pace was quick to start.
Tuukka Rask had to make an alert save on Troy Brouwer in tight just 30 seconds in. The Bruins generated chances early. They played physical. Opposite Rask, Jake Allen stood tall for the Blues in the second leg of their back-to-back.
“Those types of games — you've got to fight for every inch,” said Patrice Bergeron, who fired three shots on Allen. “They're a team that's had success over the past few years and you can tell that they play a solid system and a good defensive game and, you know, we definitely have to fight more to get to the front of the net and get the rebounds and loose pucks.”
Along with Bergeron, Jimmy Hayes, Loui Erikssn Dennis Seidenberg and Brad Marchand all fired three shots on goal. Frank Vatrano and Torey Krug put up four apiece. The Bruins ended the night with 29 shots, to the Blues’ 32.
“At the end of the night, I think the biggest thing was that I didn’t think we worked hard enough to get on the inside,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “There was a lot of times we were shooting and we had no net-front presence, they were boxing us out and we weren’t working hard enough to get on the inside.”
The Bruins created plenty of looks, especially by utilizing a strong transition game. Many close calls left them banging their sticks on the bench in frustration after a shift.
Though that frustration wouldn’t carry over into the next shift. While Allen stood tall, the Blues kept the Bruins to the outside for most of the game.
“Being a little bit hungrier with that middle drive,” Julien said of what he’d like to see from his team. “After two periods, I think it’s a pretty even game...They got a break there with their most dangerous guy on a breakaway, Tarasenko, opened up the scoring and that was probably the thing that stung the most.”
Breakdowns led to goals off the rush from Vladimir Tarasenko, who notched his 22nd tally of the season with the marker, and from Robby Fabbri, who sped down the left wing and fired a goal over Rask’s glove.
Tarasenko’s came with 12:25 to go in the third, when he broke through the middle and beat Rask with a change-up as the puck was rolling on him. Fabbri made it 2-0 with 7:10 to play.
“We knew they were a good team, a big team, an experienced team and what’s frustrating is that we gave them two breakaways in the third period, because we should be pretty experienced too, for that not to happen,” said Rask, who made 27 saves. “You know, it’s one of those losses that you still feel like you played a decent game, but you never can be satisfied with a loss.”
The Bruins — still owning the NHL’s top power play — could have gotten some help with a man advantage, but that wasn’t in the cards on Tuesday night. St. Louis received the only power play of the game, and the Bruins’ penalty kill stayed strong for its 22nd straight kill.
“You know, we've taken a lot of strides forward and we definitely have to build on that and realize what we've done,” said Bergeron. “But at the same time I think we can’t be satisfied.”
“It’s games like [this one] that we have to keep getting better and finding ways to win those type of games because that’s the type of hockey you play in the playoffs.”
The tight nature of the game caused Julien to label it a “chess match.”
“I think we’re right there,” said Marchand. “They’re obviously a really good team, and they have a lot of depth, and I thought we had a really good game. So it was something we can build on. To this point, we’ve done really well, and we have to be happy with where we’re at, but we just want to continue to get better.”
While the defeat was disappointing, it gave the Bruins just their second regulation loss in 16 games amid an 11-2-3 stretch before the holidays.
“Don’t dwell on this loss too long,” Seidenberg said of the team’s mindset heading into the three days off before picking back up with action against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday at TD Garden.
“Take these three days off and come back hungry — and keep building on what we’ve built these last couple months. Just keep being hungry and playing consistent hockey.”
"It shows that we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves and we have a lot of things we can continue to work on and just keep getting better," Krug added. "You know this group will stay hungry, for sure."
“That’s one of the messages I gave the team,” said Julien. “Is that it’s not a fun loss, it stings. We knew what the opportunity was, but at the same time let’s not forget what’s happened here in the last month and a half or so.”
“We’ve played some pretty decent hockey, so sometimes a loss like that just brings you back to reality and say, ‘Listen, we don’t get to where we are by accident, we’ve got to make sure that we play well and we do the things that we need to do to win,' and we didn’t do that tonight."
“So maybe a little bit of a wakeup call to the guys, to say, ‘Listen, if we’re not gonna get our noses dirty, we’re not gonna win games.’”
“At the same time, I like the direction our team has taken in the last month and a half and we should take advantage of that and take those three days and get some rest and hopefully come back and be as hungry as we have been in the last while.”