The energy was there. The fire was there. But the finish was not, and that, as Head Coach Claude Julien said, rendered their effort just average.
And average was not good enough to defeat the Senators at TD Garden on Saturday, as the Bruins fell 3-2 in the shootout.
“Just like Coach said, we’ve got realize where we are and look at the standings,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “Right now, it’s not what you say; it’s what you do.”
Early on, it seemed as though the Bruins had set themselves up for a win. They didn’t allow their mistakes to end up in the back of their own net, and they refused to be victimized by a couple of early penalties to Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand.
In fact, they managed to capitalize on one of those miscues. With Marchand in the box for a trip on Cody Ceci, rookie Craig Cunningham manned Marchand's customary spot alongside Patrice Bergeron on the penalty kill. When a bouncing puck came his way in the neutral zone, Cunningham pounced on it, took it to the right circle and fired it on net, where it got through Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner.
The goal, Cunningham’s first in the NHL, gave Boston a 1-0 lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the first period.
“Obviously, it’s always nice to get your first one,” Cunningham said. “The first goal, you always remember — but in the end, it didn’t really matter tonight. At this point in the season, wherever we are right now, it’s about wins and losses.”
Boston's lead was short-lived. With less than three minutes gone in the second, Mika Zibanejad found himself alone in the right circle. He charged the net, froze Tuukka Rask with a fake, then held on to the puck and put it past him glove side to tie the game.
Still, it wasn't over yet. About a minute and a half after the B’s allowed the equalizer, Milan Lucic — taking exception to what he believed to be a high hit — dropped the gloves with Mark Borowicki. The fight infused some life into the B’s, who responded with their second goal midway through the period. Kevan Miller camped out down low behind Ottawa's net and centered the puck for Loui Eriksson, who beat Lehner stick side.
The goal was Eriksson’s second in his last three games.
“I think for me personally, I can put some more shots on net,” Eriksson said. “When I get those chances to put it on net, I have to take those. I think that goes as a whole team — everyone. The more shots we get on net, the more things can happen. If we do that, we can get some more goals.”
But once again, Boston would prove unable to hold onto the lead. Less than five minutes into the third, a Senators shot from the point deflected off Mark Stone in front of the net, and David Legwand capitalized, pouncing on the rebound and putting it past Rask.
Ottawa's Bobby Ryan would come up with the game-winner in the third round of the shootout.
“It’s kind of like burning the candle from both ends right now, and that’s never a good sign,” Rask said. “Not a very good game today, overall.
“It’s just not the hockey we’re used to seeing, night in and night out. That’s all I can say.”
The final score was in no way indicative of Rask’s performance between the pipes. Postgame, teammates lauded him for standing on his head — particularly in overtime, when he stoned Ryan on a breakaway with about a minute remaining in the extra frame — and they criticized themselves for being unable to bury the myriad chances they had.
“It’s all about bearing down and making the most of your opportunities, and we just haven’t done that this year,” said forward Milan Lucic. “When we don’t bear down and make the most of our chances, you’re going to have tough nights and not get wins. Yeah, we get the lead, it’s great — but instead of extending the lead like we should and having that killer instinct, we let the [other] team get back into it with the next goal.
“Those are the things that we have to get better at. It just hasn’t been there this year. It’s just something moving forward we have to get much better at because we can’t wait too much longer to turn this thing around. We have to do it now.”
The point that the Bruins earned on Saturday was of no consolation. For days, they have said they need more than strong efforts in order to win games. They need results, especially having lost seven of their last nine games. Florida is creeping up the Eastern Conference standings, and conversely, the Bruins are falling.
The playoffs may be a long ways off, but the pressure is on, and the Bruins are putting the onus on themselves to respond -- and respond now -- before it’s too late.
“I don’t think we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, but we’ve talked about waking up and putting in the effort and doing all the right things,” Rask said. “We’re showing we can do it, and then sometimes, we just sleep and don’t do them.
“The wake-up call should have been a few weeks ago. We’ve been talking about it enough, and it’s not going to get any better if we keep talking about it. We’ve just got to bury our heads down and work hard, and good things are going to happen. But it’s really frustrating when you look at these mistakes and stuff we’re doing out there, night in and night out.
“It’s just not the Bruins hockey.”
In seven of their last nine games, the Bruins have scored no more than two goals. The point has been driven home: They’re not finding the back of the net, and in order to win, they need to be.
Now, it’s time to execute. Now, it’s time to find a way to get the job done.
“Same message over and over — we’ve heard it,” said defenseman Kevan Miller. “It’s like Coach just has to give us the plan, and we’re just not executing it. Guys can look at themselves, including myself, and as a team, we need to look at each other and just kind of hold ourselves accountable.”
There have been injuries this season, but the Bruins haven’t made excuses up to this point, and they certainly will not start now. There can be no more excuses. At a certain point, “almost” isn’t good enough.
The message has penetrated. The Bruins understand what is at stake. They simply must start winning, they said, and they must start now.
“We can’t wait any longer to turn this thing around,” Lucic said. “We have to figure it out next game because teams are catching up to us, and [on Friday] night, we slide out of a playoff spot. Yeah, we were able to get back in there with one point, but a lot can happen.
“No one is going to do it for us. We can’t bank on other teams to lose and other teams to do us favors. We have to start bringing it on the ice and start getting wins.”