FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien succinctly summed up his players' performance in a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on Friday.
"I think we played one of our probably worst games at the worst time," he said.
During two days of hype leading up to the NHL's marquee regular-season event, Bruins players spoke about wanting to shine in the unique atmosphere and get two points that would put them in first place in the Atlantic Division. Instead, the Bruins were outplayed from the start and outshot 14-3 in the first period.
"I think we just didn't respond well to the big stage, I think," said Boston forward Matt Beleskey, who scored early in the third period to make it 3-1. "We were a little hesitant. It showed in the first period; [the Canadiens] kind of got the momentum and it's hard to come back on them like that."
The Bruins had to shuffle their lineup because of the absence of injured center David Krejci and suspended left wing Brad Marchand. They were confident that they could get by without two of their top four scorers; instead, they were flat. In the first period, the Bruins went 14:50 between shots on goal and Montreal had 27 shot attempts to Boston's four. Only some crucial saves by goaltender Tuukka Rask kept the Bruins m within 1-0 in the first period.
"It's such a big game. Guys talk about it. I think maybe we were overhyped, a little bit nervous to start," Boston defenseman Torey Krug said. "But at some point you think it's going to click. I said before, we were just waiting around, waiting for a bounce or something. Finally in the third period, we score a goal and it seems like we have things rolling a little bit and we have them back on their heels and all of a sudden they get one really quickly.
"It's frustrating for sure. There's no excuse. We just weren't ready to play, and we didn't represent the Bruins or the city of Boston very well today."
A goal by Montreal forward Paul Byron 2:00 into the second put the Bruins behind 2-0, but Boston's offense perked up near the midway point of the period. The Bruins' top-ranked power play went to work for the second time in the period and pressured the Canadiens. Loui Eriksson tipped Krug's shot on Mike Condon and Ryan Spooner's one-timer rebounded off Condon and went wide of the net.
Instead, the Canadiens gained some momentum from the back-to-back penalty kills and went ahead 3-0 on Brendan Gallagher's goal at 17:20.
The Bruins got another power play near the end of the period when Montreal's Tomas Plekanec shot the puck over the glass with 30 seconds remaining, earning a delay of game. But Condon robbed Spooner by making a glove save with 0.1 seconds left in the period.
"That was a big moment for us," Krug said. "[The guys on the power play] kind of talked a little bit and said that we've been so big for our team, we wanted to step up and make something count. And if we didn't score a goal, [we wanted to] gain some momentum. I thought for a little bit it felt like that. And then all of a sudden you come out for the third period and I was bad on the power play and didn't really set anything up on the power play. Finally, we scored one eventually [at even strength]. But we rely on our power play to do so much and unfortunately every game it doesn't happen."
Boston finished 0-for-3 on the power play.
The Bruins missed their chance to move into first place in the division; instead, the Canadiens leapfrogged the Florida Panthers and dropped the Bruins into third. Boston will host the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday before beginning a five-game road trip against Eastern Conference opponents.
Past Bruins teams have been proficient at rebounding from disappointing losses. The current one will get a chance to prove it can do the same.
"You don't have a choice," Julien said. "I always say the same thing: You don't have a choice. You've got to put these aside. Things aren't going to get any easier right now. I don't know if we anticipate having anybody back for the next game yet or not.
"So we have to move on with what we have, and when you have a lineup you just have to tell yourself you need to be better, and we have to be better as a group. And we're challenged right now, but that's where team comes into play. And you have to play for each other, probably a little bit harder and probably a little bit more determined."