“It’s called focus,” he said following Wednesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “We kind of lose track of that at times, and get away from things that we used to do well to make us successful.”
On Tuesday night, the Bruins faced an unfortunately familiar narrative. They took a two-goal lead into the third period, only to squander it by the frame’s end.
On Tuesday, that lack of focus in the third period cost them, as they ultimately fell 4-3 in overtime. It’s happened too frequently over the course of this season, and the entire roster echoed that postgame. On Wednesday, it was right back to work, right back to finding ways to eliminate those lapses.
“You just simplify,” said forward Landon Ferraro. “If you have a couple-goal lead, you don’t need to score another. You keep pressing and you keep making sure that you’re getting pucks in and you’re playing in their end, and a team’s going to get desperate if they’re down two, and they’re going to start taking chances, and that’s where you take advantage of it.
“[You’re] not trying to force things, where we’re trying to score the fourth and giving up chances against. That’s not how you close out games. So you’ve just got to make sure that you keep it simple.”
That, perhaps, is the mistake the Bruins made against the Leafs. Perhaps they pressed too hard. Perhaps there was too much focus on getting that fourth goal and not enough focus on making sure the opponent didn’t get its second.
“Honestly, to tell you the truth, we’d obviously like to correct those things,” said forward David Krejci. “At the beginning of the year, we were having some problems. We had some new faces, guys trying to buy into the system. Then, I thought after 10 games, we were correcting those and we were winning tight, tough games.
“We have to get back to playing the right away again, especially the little details and execution without the puck. That’s what makes a difference.”
Focus is a difficult concept to quantify, to identify, to put into words. It’s not something that’s easy to put your finger on. But somehow, the Bruins have to make sure they have it, particularly late in games. They know they have to find some way to ensure that there is no let-up, no dropoff in effort, whether they are up by a single goal or five.
They need to play every third period the way they played the first two minutes of the third against Toronto on Tuesday night.
“Obviously, we have a lot of offense, but at the same time, we have to start playing some good defense,” Ferraro said. “We’re scoring enough goals every game; it’s just when you score three, you should be able to win. We had a two-goal lead, so obviously it just comes down to being committed defensively and making sure that we’re all playing the right way and not just some of us on one night, some of us on the other.
“We need to be able to do it as a team more consistently than we have been.”
More Emphasis on D
As the Bruins anticipate the first game of a home-and-home against Buffalo on Thursday night, they know they need to be better in their own end than they were on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Maple Leafs scored three of their four goals the same way: off tips in front. The Bruins were not present enough in front of their own net, especially in the slot. Those are the kinds of lapses they will be looking to eliminate in the first of two games against the Sabres.
“We’re putting a big emphasis on it now,” Ferraro said. “Everyone’s going to be thinking about it — making sure that we’re on the right side of the puck, we’re not trying to force plays, we’re chipping it in when we have to, and trying to play in their end as much as you can throughout the night. As soon as you start doing that stuff on the defensive side, it starts to be a bit easier because you’re not having to defend for half, or more than half, of the night.”
It has long been the Bruins’ credo that good defense leads to good offense. They know they need to get back to that mentality — and the good habits that stem from it — sooner rather than later.
“Fortunately for us, we’ve had more success on the road [than at home],” Julien said. “So hopefully that continues. But nonetheless, we’ve got to fix things now, which we’re trying to do, and win some hockey games here that are important for us.”
The B’s have found ways to score goals lately, and although they have said the bulk of their tuning up needs to happen in their own end, they would still like to see themselves improve in that regard as well.
“We feel like we need to be stronger with the puck, especially down low,” Krejci said. “Mistakes are going to be made. Every single team makes mistakes, even Washington and Chicago. All those teams and people make mistakes, but it’s how you respond. How you put on the brakes and work hard and your teammates build you up.
“So that’s what good teams do, and that’s what we worked on today, and I thought we had a good practice.”
And regardless of what went wrong in the third period on Tuesday, the B’s have moved past it. There’s nothing they can do about it now, except make sure the same demons don’t reappear on Thursday night at the First Niagara Center.
“I guess you can talk about losing focus last night,” Krejci said, “but that happened yesterday. And we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
Standings Still Jammed
Though the Bruins did let a point slip away on Tuesday night, they still managed to gain some ground in the standings, pulling into a third-place tie with Detroit in the Atlantic Division, though the Red Wings do have a game in hand.
The Bruins are still in the thick of the playoff race. They still have a tenuous hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
But as has been their mission from Day 1, it’s time to gain some separation.
“After you come back from the All-Star Break, that’s when the race starts,” Krejci said. “So you have to kind of be aware of what’s going on, and there are a few division games. You have to make sure you’re pushing the teams below you down and try to catch up with the teams above you. So like I said, it’s a great opportunity for our team the next few games.”
The Bruins haven’t yet felt that they have shown their best stuff at any point over the first four months of the season. Now, however, is the time to start pulling out all the stops. Now is the time to push, or else another team below them will.
“Everybody is ready for the playoff, and February and March are crucial months,” Krejci said. “So we have to get as many wins as we can so that by April, we’re sitting pretty good.”
Following Wednesday’s practice, Julien confirmed that goaltender Jonas Gustavsson will travel with the team to Buffalo, as will Malcolm Subban, who was recalled from Providence on Feb. 1.
Gustavsson was removed from Boston’s game against Anaheim on Jan. 26 for precautionary reasons due to an elevated heart rate. On Tuesday, he was cleared to practice with the team, but the club is still awaiting his final test results, at which time he will be cleared to play by the Bruins’ medical staff.
“As long as Malcolm’s still here, [Gustavsson] won’t be cleared to play,” Julien said. “But if he practices with us, he can travel with us because he can skate with the team.”
Defenseman Adam McQuaid, who began skating on Feb. 1 for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed upper body injury on Jan. 5, skated prior to practice with Bruins Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides.
Wednesday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Loui Eriksson, David Krejci, David Pastrnak
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly
Gray Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Joonas Kemppainen
Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Landon Ferraro, Tyler Randell
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Malcolm Subban, Jonas Gustavsson