The Bruins were pressing, with a 3-1 deficit.
Playing from behind, every chance carries an ounce more of weight and an injects a greater dose of frustration.
Facing 3-0 and 4-1 holes, the Black & Gold twice made it a two-goal game, with tallies from Lee Stempniak and Frank Vatrano, but ultimately suffered a 5-2 loss.
“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” Head Coach Claude Julien said Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden following the defeat. “We played much better in California. We didn’t play well tonight at all, so whether it’s one of those off games, we’ll find out soon enough tomorrow night when we play Florida.”
“Right now, we control our own destiny, and right now, we’re giving teams below us some hope, so we’ve got to turn this around quick.”
For the fourth straight game, the Bruins allowed the first goal and found themselves in a hole that led to a fourth straight loss.
The Rangers struck on their second power play of the night at 8:37 into the first period. With Jimmy Hayes in the box for slashing, Mats Zuccarello went upstairs on Tuukka Rask after Keith Yandle faked a shot and fed his teammate down low.
It appeared that the puck may have hit the netting on a previous shot during the power play shift.
“Well, that’s what we thought and that’s what everybody from the bench thought,” said Julien. “We saw it go up and we didn’t hear it hitting the glass, but our video guy looked at it — it fell down, hit the dasher, top of the boards, so that’s why we didn’t hear that and from our point of view, it was mesh and we kind of argued that, but after a while, we realized that it was the right call that they made.”
“From there on in, the rest is probably history as far as what happened there.”
Just about two minutes after New York took a 1-0 lead, Lee Stempniak thought he had evened the score at 1-1 when he potted a loose puck on Henrik Lundqvist after Patrice Bergeron’s shot was blocked down.
The Rangers utilized their Coach’s Challenge to challenge that the play was offside. They won the decision, with Bergeron and Brad Marchand both offside, and the score stood at 1-0 with 9:05 to go in the first period.
The Bruins had to go on their third penalty kill of the opening frame at 12:23 into the period when David Krejci was whistled for holding.
New York went up 2-0 just 16 seconds into the man advantage, when Yandle weaved his way through Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron off the rush, and fed Derek Stepan, who beat Adam McQuaid in a foot race backdoor.
“It’s hard every time you give them some power plays and some life on those power plays and it gives them the momentum that they want,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We had a few good shifts early on and then it was all them, so it’s not definitely not the way you want to start the gam, and after that, we were chasing for the rest of the night.”
With another inopportune start — falling down 2-0 for the third straight game — the Bruins needed to keep their composure.
They had allowed two power play goals on three opportunities, seen a goal go in after a possible puck in the netting, and had a goal overturned due to the Coach’s Challenge.
The Bruins turned it on at the end of the period, racking up five shots on goal in the final 3:20 of the period to earn a 9-8 shots advantage after being outshot for most of the first.
Loui Eriksson had the Bruins’ best chance as the period was coming to a close, racing in on 3-on-1, but Lundqvist made the save right before the buzzer.
Jonas Gustavsson was between the pipes for the Bruins when they started the second period. Rask finished the night with six saves on eight shots.
Rask had missed Thursday’s practice as a result of being “under the weather,” according to Julien.
“He was feeling great. He had the morning skate. He said he was ready to go, and even tonight, he was ready to go, but just at the end of the first period, it turned the other way around,” said Julien. “So we decided to make the safe and the right call.”
Gustavsson made 13 saves on 15 shots in the final 40 minutes.
The Rangers put the Bruins in a three-goal hole at 5:26 into the second period, when Derick Brassard found room down the left wing, wound up and zipped a shot by Gustavsson’s glove that hit under the backbar and jutted right out.
A comeback wouldn’t be easy, but the Bruins had to try and find a way to fight back and end a three-game losing streak.
Stempniak reduced the deficit to two goals with 10:26 to go in the second period, when he put home a feed down low from Marchand. Bergeron had kept the puck in play by batting it down. It marked the first goal in six games for the trio.
Boston then had to kill a double-minor high-sticking penalty to Chara, which turned into 4-on-4 action and the Bruins’ first power play time of the night.
Noel Acciari drew their first 2:00 power play of the night late in the second, and the Bruins turned it on — but were unable to convert. Lundqvist made an incredible sequence of saves, Ryan Spooner sent one through the crease and the Rangers escaped without any damage done.
Gustavsson had to make a huge save of his own during the power play when Viktor Stalberg raced down the right side. He made one save and then stopped the follow-up reaching behind him with his glove on the ice sealing the post.
The Bruins almost pulled within one early in the third period, when Lundqvist gloved Stempniak’s rebound bid on the goal line after he stopped Marchand’s bid from the left circle. The call on the ice was “no goal” and after video review, it stood. The official said there was “no evidence that the puck completely crossed the line.”
Boston’s bench boss re-hashed the calls and reviews following the game.
“Obviously the call offside was the right call, I think it could have been a 1-1 hockey game. But I didn’t like how he called that penalty on Krejci and it ended up being 2-0,” said Julien. “You know, really disappointed, but then we fought back. I mean. we had a goal there that they decided to call ‘no goal’ and it was inconclusive, so we got the wrong end there as well.”
“But at the same time, I don’t think we played well enough to win,” Julien continued. “You know, we seemed out of sync. Those tape-to-tape passes were few and far between, so we needed to be better.”
“I think that was the disappointing part of our game tonight, a game that we really needed to win and somehow we just didn’t seem to be in sync.”
J.T. Miller made it 4-1 Rangers at 6:32 into the third, when he found himself wide open backdoor to put home a Derek Stepan feed from the slot.
Julien juggled lines in the second and third periods, with Frank Vatrano skating alongside Krejci and Eriksson in the third. After being recalled from Providence on Tuesday, Vatrano suited up in his first NHL action since Jan. 19.
Like Stempniak, he made it a two-goal game for the Bruins, ripping his seventh of the season past Lundqvist from the right circle with 7:52 left in the third.
“Just wanted to keep it simple and create some energy for the team,” said Vatrano. “Unfortunately the bounces didn’t go our way and the good thing about it is we have another game [on Thursday].”
The Bruins kept pushing, and Lundqvist robbed Bergeron on a point-blank bid. Boston outshot New York 32-16 in the final 40 minutes.
The “Hen-rik, Hen-rik” chants returned, this time booming from a home crowd on the cusp of a victory. The Rangers goalie made 39 saves on 41 shots.
With 3:00 to go, Boston pulled Gustavsson of the extra attacker, and Rick Nash made it 5-2 with an empty-netter.
There won’t be much time for the Bruins to rest, but they will have to regroup. The Panthers are waiting for them in Boston in anticipation of Thursday night’s matchup at TD Garden.
“We have eight games left now and it’s not a bad thing to be back at it,” said Bergeron. “We definitely have to bounce back, learn from tonight, and realize that it’s not even close to being good enough.”