But in the end, the results were not. And no matter how many positives can be gleaned from Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the NHL-best Washington Capitals, it was still just that — a loss. And no matter what, that is ultimately what matters most.
“I can’t criticize the effort our team gave tonight,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “In the situation we’re in, we almost had to play a perfect game to beat those guys, and I think we gave ourselves a chance there.
“I think our guys tried — really tried — but at the same time, in this league, you’ve got to win hockey games. So we’ve got to be disappointed. We’ve got to be maybe hungrier for next game so that we can turn things around, here, and hopefully the bitterness in our mouth from losing tonight is going to carry into [Friday] in New Jersey.”
The B’s knew they needed a better effort following an effort in the Winter Classic performance many of them deemed embarrassing. They needed more emotion, more fire. At times on Tuesday night, they got that. The compete level was there, to some extent. But the B’s needed more to beat the Capitals. And in the end, they just couldn’t create the quality scoring chances required to beat a goaltender as hot as Braden Holtby.
“We have to find ways to generate more goals, more chances,” said forward Patrice Bergeron. “I thought it was a much better effort, but still not good enough. At the end of the day, you need to get wins, and the standings are way too tight to let games like that slip by.
“But we have to realize that it was a better effort, and hopefully, we can move and be a little better again next game and get back in the winning column.”
The Bruins have been missing some key contributors for a few games now. David Krejci has been out for the last three games. Brad Marchand has missed the last two and will miss another before his three-game suspension has expired.
But the Bruins have been unwilling to use that as an excuse up until now, and the case remained the same on Tuesday.
“We’re not creating as many chances as we used to,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped 26 of 29 shots. “I think that’s probably the difference. That’s really all I can see from my perspective, probably. Obviously, we’re missing a couple of key forwards, so that goes to say that. But I think offensively, we’re not kind of getting inside there and getting those second chances or clear third chances. I think that’s the biggest thing we need to improve on.”
The Capitals were the first to break through on Tuesday, as Andre Burakovsky roofed the puck over Rask with about five minutes remaining in the period. And against a team with an undefeated record when leading after one, it was a steep hill for the B’s to climb.
“It’s never easy, especially against a team like that,” said forward Loui Eriksson. “We know they have a good goalie there in their net. We’ve been kind of having a hard time scoring goals on them, too. In the end of it, we just have to put a little bit better effort. We know how big a win is right now. We need to get going.”
There was a scary moment just over four minutes into the second, as Zach Sill drove Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid into the boards in the defensive zone. McQuaid lost his stick and lay motionless on the ice for several seconds before eventually being helped off the ice by Boston’s medical staff.
“I though it was a bad hit,” Bergeron said. “It was one of those where it happens fast, and from my angle, I guess, it was a bad hit. There was no point, no need for it to hit him like that, and definitely tough to see Adam go down as hard as he did.”
With 7:20 left in the second, the Caps doubled their lead courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s wrister from the right circle, but three minutes later, the Bruins finally fought back.
Bergeron raced down the middle and fed Brett Connolly, who faked the shot from the right circle but then passed to Eriksson in the left circle. Eriksson’s 14th goal of the season eluded Holtby to make it 2-1.
Just past the halfway point of the third period, the Capitals once again stretched their lead to two goals — this one off the stick of Marcus Johansson — but once again, the Bruins clawed back. On their fourth power play of the night, Boston finally broke through, as Bergeron went ahead to Ryan Spooner up the ice and then waited for the return pass before firing away from the slot.
Bergeron’s goal pulled Boston within one. But in the end, despite a strong third period and strong overall effort, the B’s would fall one goal short.
“I guess we played a decent game; it was a weird game,” said Rask, who stopped 26 of 29 shots. “It looked like there were some moments where we had a lot of emotion, but then at times, it was kind of just not a whole lot going on out there. It was a weird game. Structure-wise, defensively, it was better; a couple of breakdowns cost us a goal.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know what to think of this game. We lost.”
There is no doubt the Bruins are currently mired in their most trying stretch of the season. They have dropped five of their last six in regulation after going six games without a regulation loss immediately prior. In three of their last four games, they have scored two or fewer goals and have struggled to produce without the likes of Krejci and Marchand.
But the road doesn’t get any easier from here. Beginning on Thursday, the Bruins will embark on a five-game road trip against five Eastern Conference opponents who pose a threat in the standings.
“It is a big road trip coming up, and we have to approach it that way,” Julien said. “I’m hoping that our group here is going to be ready for that challenge. Again, looking at the smaller picture, that's the next game against New Jersey [on Friday]. Let’s see if we can get on a roll here an build on that. So that’s what we need to look at.
“There’s no reason for us to not have the confidence, with the record that we have on the road, and hopefully, we can have that and go out there and prove that we’ve still got a good road team.”
Two points on Tuesday night against Holtby and the Caps would have been nice. But points throughout the course of this road trip are absolutely essential, and the B’s know it.
“It’s tough because we’re so committed to winning and looking at results, but at this point in the season, we’ve got to start fine-tuning our game and trying to come away with points because our standings are so tight,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “So we’ll move on and we’ll take the positives, whatever it is, and just carry it into the next one.
“But we’ve got to start getting results.”