Looking for two more essential points the night after winning an emotional rollercoaster of a game in Detroit, the Chicago Blackhawks
let their guard down in the second period Tuesday at TD Garden -- and paid the price.
Boston scored twice in the final eight minutes of the middle period and added an insurance tally early in the third to hand the weary defending Stanley Cup champs a 3-0 regulation loss that they can ill-afford at this time of the season.
The Blackhawks are still eighth in the Western Conference with 90 points and still control their own destiny with six games remaining, but they were clearly irked with the effort they gave Tuesday.
They gutted out two huge points Monday at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena thanks to a monster performance from Marian Hossa, who scored the winning power-play goal in overtime. But, fatigue seemed to set in halfway through Tuesday's game as a pair of Bruins' defensemen, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, scored on shots from just inside the blue line.
The Hawks wouldn't use tired legs or lack of emotion as excuses for the loss even though they were clearly guilty of both.
"I don't think it's tough to play hard two games in a row," said Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who played a game-high 26:37. "If it's too hard to play two games in a row we probably shouldn't be in the NHL."
With the win the Bruins inched closer to clinching the Northeast Division title. They own a seven-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens with six games to play. The Canadiens, who beat Atlanta 3-1 on Tuesday, have only five games remaining.
Boston goalie Tim Thomas continued his quest toward his second career Vezina Trophy with 32 saves for his ninth shutout of the season, two fewer than League leader Henrik Lundqvist. Thomas has won four straight starts, stopping 112 of 115 shots in the process. He leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.940).
Bruins forward Mark Recchi said Thomas should be considered for the Hart Trophy as well as the Vezina.
"Timmy has been out of this world since our exhibition game in Czech," Recchi said. "Since then he's been unconscious. What has he had maybe one poor start, maybe. He's our best player."
But, it was Recchi, not Thomas, sporting the Bruins' new player of the game outerwear (an old school zip-up Bruins' jacket) after the game because his assist on Boychuk's goal gave him 1,532 career points, putting him in sole possession of 12th place on the NHL's all-time points list. He passed Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey.
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference found the jacket on eBay, and it has been making the rounds around the dressing room for the last few games. Chara was wearing it after the Bruins' 7-0 win over Montreal last Thursday and Thomas had it on after he made 27 saves in a 2-1 win at Philadelphia on Sunday.
"Andrew came up with this and it's pretty awesome," Recchi said. "It's a great thing. This goes back to the old Bruin days and hopefully we can do something special like they did."
The Bruins wasted no time jumping on the Blackhawks by taking a 7-0 lead in shots on goal through the game's first seven minutes. Chicago recovered, but once the game hit the halfway point the Bruins clearly showed they have the stronger legs and they were able to control the game.
Chara scored on a deflected shot from the left point with 7:58 to play in the second period and Boychuk scored on a knuckling slap shot from the right point 2:20 later. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (31 saves in his 21st straight start) said Boychuk's shot was difficult to pick up because it "dropped like three feet. It started high and went right over the pad. It sank quite a bit."
However, it was really the Blackhawks who sank after the first goal, and you could almost sense the second goal was coming. For instance, Brent Seabrook's meager attempt to check Milan Lucic was not going to be enough to stop the Bruins' power forward from skating right past him and into the corner to dig out the puck and send it to the other corner to help set up Boychuk's goal.
Lucic was skating with momentum and Seabrook was skating backwards with no speed or power. He tried a two-handed check, but it wasn't even remotely close to slowing down Lucic.
"I think a lot of us were standing around," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "I don't think it's a case of the legs being tired, we just weren't skating."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said his team got outworked all night -- and wasn't happy that his players offered no response after Chara's goal.
"We were looking for more," he said. "We played good hockey teams back to back nights in their buildings and I guess getting two (points) is OK, but when you've got two already you can't be happy."
Nathan Horton's goal 5:20 into the third period put the game out of reach. It was Horton's second goal in as many games and his fourth in his last four games. Horton has scored 12 goals in 26 games since the All-Star break. He had 11 in his first 46 games this season.
"This was a good challenge for us," Thomas said. "Chicago is a good team. I know they're battling for a playoff spot in that Western Conference, but that's a good thing because you know they're going to bring their 'A' game because those points mean a lot to them. So, it was a big test and we responded very well. They're a very fast team and we had our legs going right from the beginning of the game and were able to match them stride for stride."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl