Now, they need help; they didn’t want to be in this situation, but back-to-back losses to Washington and Florida have cost them. Now, they are out of a playoff spot with just one game left to play, and it is going to take a win, coupled with someone else’s loss, in order to continue the 2014-15 season into next week.
“It’s tough,” said forward Chris Kelly following a 4-2 loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center on Thursday night. “We’re a proud group that’s always wanted to do things on our own, and now we’re looking for help.
“I think we’re good enough. Obviously, we’re here battling for a playoff spot; a lot of teams have been eliminated. I think we’ve got a talented group in here, and it’s unfortunate that we’re not getting the results that we’re used to.”
The Bruins are used to being a group that comes together and battles with their backs against the wall. They are used to being a group that thrives under pressure, that plays its best when the stakes are highest.
But after coming into Thursday’s game knowing that a win was crucial in order to maintain control of their own playoff destiny and then proceeding to allow three unanswered goals after taking a 1-0 lead, the Bruins were at a loss for words, and for explanations.
“As long as I’ve been here, that’s one thing that’s kind of defined the Bruins, is being able to play their best hockey at the most important times,” Kelly said. “Tonight, that third period wasn’t the usual Boston Bruins that you’ve seen in the past.”
The Bruins knew they had to get off to a stronger start than the one they put forth against the Capitals on Wednesday night. For the first half of the first period, they did just that. They were aggressive, they were assertive and they controlled the pace of play.
A boarding penalty assessed to Brett Connolly just over eight minutes into the frame, however, temporarily took the wind out of Boston’s sails and allowed the Panthers just enough leeway to get right back into it. Florida kept fighting for control as soon as the puck dropped in the second, and quality scoring chances much tougher to come by — in that period, and for the remainder of the game. Still, it was Boston that struck first.
After Florida’s Willie Mitchell went to the box for interference on Patrice Bergeron, Bergeron pounced on the rebound of a long-range bid by Torey Krug and tucked it behind Roberto Luongo to give the B’s a 1-0 lead. The goal marked Bergeron’s team-leading 23rd of the season.
But the Panthers were quick to respond. After Connolly took a high-sticking penalty with just over two minutes remaining until the second intermission, it was Aleksander Barkov who beat Tuukka Rask five-hole, and the puck deflected off the far post and in to tie the game with 1:20 left in the period.
“I thought our D played pretty good, and [Barkov] did kind of a move — backhand there — and shot it quickly,” Rask said. “It caught me open and up a little bit, but I thought I had it. Obviously didn’t, but good move. When it goes through me like that, that’s always not a great goal, but I thought I had it.”
From there, Florida’s attack never waned, and the Bruins could not respond. The Panthers extended their lead to 3-1 in the third period on goals by Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes in the span of four minutes, and although Boston pulled with one on a strike by Brad Marchand with just under seven minutes remaining, it was too little, too late. Florida’s Jimmy Hayes would provide the final dagger after a turnover left him wide open in the high slot with 4:46 to go.
“By the third period, I sensed there was fatigue, and mental fatigue, and that’s where you’ve got to be strong,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “At this stage, we can use all the excuses we want, but we’ve got to be able to get through these kind of games, and we didn’t.
“There’s a lot of guys in there that are putting everything on the line, but it’s not everybody.”
While the Bruins were fighting for their playoff lives in Sunrise, the Ottawa Senators earned a 3-0 shutout of the Rangers to pull two points ahead of Boston and lay claim to a wild card berth for the first time since Boston bumped them out on March 28.
And now, the Bruins will need them to lose in regulation on Saturday against Philadelphia — or they will need substantial help from Pittsburgh, which has two games left to play — combined with in a win in order to qualify for the postseason.
“We have to look at ourselves,” Julien said. “Nobody else. We shoot ourselves in the foot, and we put ourselves in this position now that you have to win the next game — no if’s or but’s — and you’ve got to hope that you get some help. We were hoping that we wouldn’t be in that position to rely on others; right now, we are.
“We can hang our heads here all we want, but the bottom line is that we’ve got to regroup and think about winning ourselves a hockey game next game because if not, then I’m disappointed in all of us for not thinking that way.”
The Bruins entered Saturday’s game holding their own fate in their hands. Now, their season will come down to their own play on Saturday night along with several elements that will be out of their control.
All they can do, at this point, is put everything they have on the line and, from there, cross their fingers.
“Just have to deal with it,” Rask said. “It wasn’t [out of our hands] until now, so it’s I guess [it’s] our own doing, and now we just have to go into Tampa and try to get a win and hope for the best.”