BOSTON – The Bruins were left pondering the what-ifs on Tuesday night.
What if Zdeno Chara’s point-blank shot late in the second went in? What if Brad Marchand’s breakaway chance earlier that period found the back of the net? What if Jimmy Hayes’s attempt from the slot midway through the third beat Cam Ward? And what if Loui Eriksson’s shootout bid didn’t trickle just wide of the post?
They were all golden chances. But the Bruins had nothing to show for them.
The result was a 2-1 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden in the first of a crucial three-game season-ending stretch that will determine their playoff fate.
Former Boston College standout and Norwood, Mass., native Noah Hanifin tallied the lone goal in the fifth round of the shootout to lift the Hurricanes.
“I can answer 20 questions here or I can give you one thing – it’s an inability to finish and that’s the main thing here for tonight. Nothing more,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
“Sometimes those things happen. Whether it’s confidence, whether it’s a little bit of bad luck, a little bit of everything. So you’ve just got to work yourselves through it.”
The Bruins did grab a point – Loui Eriksson’s third-period goal assured them of that – to tie Detroit with 91 points each in the Atlantic Division. But with the Red Wings playing Philadelphia on Wednesday night there is no guarantee it stays that way.
Thus, the Black & Gold were left lamenting the fact that they no longer control their playoff fate.
“It’s tough,” said Bruins winger Brad Marchand, who landed four shots on goal. “I mean, we were so close, only a shot away. But all we can do now is focus on the next game, get prepared for that, and we’ll go from there.”
As Marchand said, the dwelling cannot last very long. Not with a showdown against the Red Wings Thursday staring the Bruins in the face.
“We still have to go to the next game,” said Marchand. “It’s a do-or-die every game. We have two left here and we still have to look at this next one and be extremely prepared for that. So we’ve got to let this one go and be ready for the next game.”
The Bruins, while not happy with their offensive finish, were pleased with their defensive effort. After allowing 11 goals combined to St. Louis and Chicago over the weekend, tightening things up was a priority.
They did that, limiting the Hurricanes to just the one goal on 28 shots.
“St. Louis is a team that creates a lot of havoc around the net and gets second opportunities, and Chicago is great off the rush and against odd-man rushes. They’re two different teams,” said Rask.
“Today, I thought defensively we played better. Obviously the other team is going to get some chances, but we minimized them pretty well tonight.”
The Hurricanes opened the scoring late in the first period when defenseman Jaccob Slavin threw one on net from the left point that squeaked under the glove of Rask at 18:54.
“My mistake there,” said Rask. “I was looking up high, not down low. And then I didn’t make the save. Probably didn’t go in if I see it all the way.”
Boston, which outshot Carolina 36-28, had a number of chances to tie the game during the second, but Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward was immense in making 35 stops.
“I thought we had some pretty good chances all around during the game, but maybe we should make it a little bit harder on the goalie,” said Eriksson.
“Sometimes we were just putting it in his belly and in his glove, so we have to just be better at putting pucks on the net and maybe shoot for that rebound just to get something going and maybe get the rebound goal.”
The Bruins finally knotted the score when Eriksson found the twine on a breakaway at 1:45 of the third period. Eriksson had been serving a tripping penalty, but emerged from the box and collected a pass from John-Michael Liles before dangling past Ward for his 29th goal of the season.
“I was just coming in from my penalty there,” said Eriksson. “I tried to keep my speed and I saw they were in the middle of a change there, too, so I was able to pick the puck up and went on the breakaway, so it was definitely nice.”
But not quite enough.
So now the focus turns to Detroit in what to this point may be the biggest game of the season.
“We’ve got to win that one,” said Torey Krug. “I think to be able to put this one behind us quick and move on and look at a bigger game right now is important.
“We’ve just got to stick with it and take care of our business.”