The Boston Bruins fell to the Ottawa Senators, 3-1, on Saturday afternoon in front of 19,846 at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place. Ottawa's Chris Neil scored the game winner 12:12 remaining in the third period to give the B's their third defeat in five games.
The Bruins, who came into the matinee 12th in the Eastern Conference and 5th in the Northeast Division, traveled to Ontario, Canada, to play the streaking Senators, owners of a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games, and to search for the "consistency" that has eluded the Boston club since the regular season began in October.
So, as usual, the Bruins went to their safety blanket, or their "Tank" depending on what makes you feel more comfortable, and started Tim Thomas
in goal in an attempt to turn the club's momentum around after earning a 3-6-1 record in the 10 games before the NHL All-Star break.
Thomas, who came into the game with a 5-2-1 record over his career versus Ottawa, and a 19-13-3 record on the campaign, enjoyed a very good first half of the season and looked to duplicate some of his early campaign success versus the team from Canada's capital.
The powerful Senators countered with their own stalwart netminder, Ray Emery.
Emery, who would earn the game's second star, is now 22-11-1 this season but owned just a 2-2-1 lifetime record versus the Bruins coming into the contest. However, Emery stopped all 18 shots he faced from the Bruins to beat Boston in their last meeting.
Throughout the first period the teams felt their way through a little bit of rust, no doubt left over from the mid-campaign siesta, to go to the intermission tied 0-0. Both goalies were tested early on, however, and each made 10 saves to keep their opponents scoreless through the first 20-minutes of play.
Both squads came out of the locker rooms with just a bit more intensity and remembered skill. Ottawa, in particular, seemed determined to break the deadlock and turned the momentum of the contest in their favor, even as the last few seconds of the second stanza ticked away. But Thomas was up to the task, however, and stopped all 14 shots that the Ottawa scoring machine produced in the middle session.
Meanwhile, Emery was relatively untouched and need to only make three saves in the period.
"In the second period we didn't play real well," said Bruins head coach Dave Lewis. "It upset our momentum and gave them momentum."
The Senators announced their presence with authority and came out for the third ready to break the scoreless tie -- which they did at just 2:17 of the third when Ottawa's Patrick Eaves (from Jason Spezza and Antoine Vermette), a former Boston College Eagle, beat Boston's Thomas, a former University of Vermont Catamount, after the puck got clogged high in the Boston zone.
Eaves deftly corralled the puck after the Boston defense failed to clear the zone and snapped it through the B's goalie to score his 11th and put the Sens up 1-0 with most of the period left on the clock.
"It was a bouncing puck in the slot," explained Thomas of the genesis of the Eave's play. "The guy does a spinarama shot.
"It was the perfect shot for that spot."
The goal, no doubt, had the desired effect on the home crowd and home team and they continued to press throughout the third session. For the game-winning tally, the Senators employed a 3-on-2 rush and Chris Neil crashed the net to score his 10th goal (from Peter Schaefer, Tom Preissing) on Thomas at 7:48.
"The second goal was a good play with the guy coming to the net," said Thomas. "He came in so hard and stopped and all I saw was snow -- I never even saw Neil's shot."
However, the two Ottawa goals finally woke the Bruins offense up from their midseason slumber as well.
Boston alternate captain, Glen Murray, worked hard in front of the Senators net and was able to stuff a goal home, his 23rd of the season, after grabbing a rebound from a shot by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara
, he kicked the puck to his feet and slid it past Emery at 8:44.
Inspired by veteran forward, the Bruins continued to press as the period's precious time ticked away.
But with the Bruins on a 6-on-4 advantage thanks to a late Ottawa penalty, Vermette scored Ottawa's third goal when Marc Savard
threw his stick to prevent the Senators player's shot from going into Boston's empty net.
"Ideally you try to give up nothing," said a somber Thomas of the two goals he let up. "But that's not realistic.
"But it was…more than we wanted to give up."
Thomas, the game's third star, found support in the Boston locker room.
"(Tim's) facing way too many shots right now," said Boston's veteran forward P.J. Axelsson, who admitted that in order for the Bruins to win "he's got to keep all of the shots out of his net."
"And that's almost impossible," said Axelsson.
"We had a chance right to the end," said Lewis. "I thought we responded really well to the second goal and we had a power play late and just didn't get the job done."