Bruins Still Atop League, But Looking to Get Back on Track Following Shootout Losses in Winnipeg & Minnesota
WINNIPEG - Just two games remain now for the Black & Gold, before they hit reset for the 2014 postseason.
Their latest game, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Thursday night, marked their second straight loss in such fashion, after falling to the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in the shootout on Tuesday.
"If we were getting ready for the playoffs, we’d play a lot better than that. We looked like a disinterested team tonight, and [the Jets] were determined to have a good strong finish here and they did," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame.
"They were the better team tonight from start to finish and I thought our goaltender was the reason we were able to come out of here with at least a point."
Brad Marchand put the Bruins up 1-0 off their second shot of the game, at 10:12 into the first period, for his 24th on the season. Winnipeg led shots 12-6 after the first period, but Boston held the 1-0 lead.
That score stuck until 1:05 left in regulation, when Evander Kane broke through Chad Johnson on the Jets' 35th shot of the night, amidst a third period trending in the their favor.
Johnson had made 14 previous stops in the final frame, in which the Jets outshot Boston 15-10. At the other end, former Bruins prospect Michael Hutchinson stood strong for Winnipeg. Bryan Little eventually scored the winner in the shootout.
"They looked like the fresher team and they probably shouldn’t have been but they were," said Gregory Campbell, of a Jets squad that had a bag skate for more than a hour the previous day. "They made us pay and that’s what happens when you play on your heels. They had a lot of good chances and eventually, one of those chances is probably going to go in."
"Chad did a great job tonight and made a lot of saves, and it’s our responsibly to help him out there."
"Haven’t had enough time to really reflect, but just, I don’t think we really can afford to lose to teams like Winnipeg that aren’t in the playoffs; I think we have a lot more to prove," said Johnson, who stopped 36 of the Jets' 37 shots through overtime.
The Bruins had spoken about sharpness and cleaning up their game heading into the matchup.
"It seemed like they really wanted it. We didn’t really push back, we were pretty sloppy in our end, and it ended up costing us," said Marchand.
"It just seems like we’re not prepared and we should be. We’re still fighting for the top of the League and we want to make sure we finish there, so we've got to be a lot more prepared for the next game and make sure we come out our best."
The Bruins have been asked nonstop for the past few weeks about rest, recovery and the challenge of maintaining their sharpness in games that, essentially, can only now give them the Presidents' Trophy, having already wrapped up the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. For them, though, the final regular season accolade is only a bonus.
This week, the Bruins have been able to implement their rest plan, giving players like Jarome Iginla and Kevan Miller time out of the lineup to get back to 100 percent. David Krejci got the night off on Tuesday in Minnesota. Chris Kelly remains out of the lineup, nursing a day-to-day back injury, but should be ready to go for the playoffs.
Sitting out key players is a luxury afforded to the Bruins right now. It's an option that teams like Philadelphia, Columbus and Detroit - all potential first round opponents, and each tied with 91 points - do not have.
"Just because you rest players, doesn’t mean you want your teams to relax," Julien said prior to the matchup. "If you’re going to get dressed and you’re going to play, you've got to play hard, no matter what."
Even without Chara, Bergeron and Kelly in the lineup, the Black & Gold wouldn't use their leaders' absence as an excuse for the outcome in Winnipeg.
"It shouldn’t be - those guys are obviously leaders of the team and good players for us night in and night out and we value their presence, especially when they’re not in the lineup, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for our team," said Campbell.
"We’re a good team and we’re built to compete every night so whether we have those guys in the lineup or not, things are going to happen throughout the course of the season and possibly in the playoffs, so it’s something we have to learn to deal with - and play hard."
Most often, Julien points to the experience of his group, and their awareness for what's an acceptable effort.
"Well they are an experienced group, but they didn’t show it tonight," said the bench boss. "So every once in a while as the coach you have to step in and say what you have to say, so we’ll deal with that moving forward here."
"Every once in a while your players will disappoint you and this is one of them. You expected better leadership. We lost races and battles to a team that skated for over an hour [on Wednesday.] So, to me, it just showed that there wasn’t much interest in the game."
"Hopefully, it’s just a bit of a phase here that we’re going through and we can pick up our game because bad habits creep in quickly and they’re hard to break. So, hopefully we got that message tonight."
The Bruins now head back to Boston to host Buffalo on Saturday in their final home game of the regular season at TD Garden, before finishing in New Jersey on Sunday against the Devils.
No matter who will be in the lineup, it's a chance for those in the Spoked-B to end with strong performances.
"They’re important games for us; I think especially because of the last couple of efforts," said Campbell. "I think we want to get back on track here and head into the playoffs on a positive note and feeling good about ourselves."
"You know, we are still at the top of the League, but efforts like the last couple of games unfortunately aren’t going to be good enough down the stretch and in the playoffs. When we meet good teams, they’re going to make us pay and pay when it counts."
As with this group, though, they eventually always find a way to get back to Bruins' hockey.
"There are a few things that we have to clean up - and we’ll be fine," said Campbell.