PITTSBURGH, PA - The Bruins knew the Penguins would have extra motivation when the puck dropped at CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday night, with the teams meeting for the first time since Boston's sweep in the Eastern Conference Final.
The game was never out of reach, even in the dying seconds, but the Black & Gold were uncharacteristically outmuscled and outbattled, en route to a 3-2 loss to mark the first time they have lost two straight this season. The B's record falls to 7-4-0.
"This is where as players and as a team you have to take responsibility," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien, who didn't think his team's compete level was up to par for the full 60.
"You build your team around a certain identity and one of them is being big and strong on the boards and winning battles, but that wasn’t the case tonight."
"Give them credit, they were a determined team. For at least two periods, they were the better team when it came to that."
In a scoreless first period, Tuukka Rask stopped all 13 shots he faced. From the start, it appeared it would be a tight game. The B's were breaking out their zone, but just unable to sustain pressure.
"He was good, especially in that first period…he certainly held us in there and that’s what Tuukka’s done for us this year," said Julien, of the net minder's that kept them in the game early.
The Bruins are generally a patient team; they stay within their structure and play a heavy, hard on puck style game.
When the puck dropped on the second, they were looking to make the simple plays, reduce their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone, and get more than just their seven first-period shots through on Marc-Andre Fleury.
There were moments of battle, but also lapses. The inconsistency ended up plaguing the B's, and the Penguins, who had labeled "being patient" as key to defeating Boston, took advantage, scoring on their first power play of the night. It marked the B's fifth straight power-play goal allowed.
While Milan Lucic was in the box for interference on Tanner Glass (naturally, a scuffle ensued right after), the Pens' movement on the man-advantage found a way past Rask. With the netminder moving side to side, a tipped shot from Sidney Crosby hit teammate Chris Kunitz in front, who backhanded it through the five-hole.
Patrice Bergeron swatted the puck at the boards immediately after, the prideful center clearly not pleased.
"Well, I think it’s a combination of everybody there. So it’s not just one player; it’s the group," said Julien, of the usually dominant penalty kill's recent downturn. "I think we were a little soft on that first penalty kill; we allowed [Crosby] to come in and take that wrist shot and we’re supposed to push him down."
"So we have to be a little bit better and it’s like everything else – you’re looking for a lot of different things. Our first penalty kill wasn’t very good but I thought more than anything else, that’s not where the issue lies with me tonight."
"It’s more about, we didn’t play to our identity," said Julien.
"We didn’t play a heavy game tonight for two periods at least, and when we did in the third, it made a difference and we got ourselves back in the game. So we had to play three periods like we did in the third; a heavier type of game and that wasn’t the case. We knew they were going to come out hard and they did."
Heading to the third trailing 1-0, the Bruins didn't necessarily find themselves in a rut. Despite the "lighter" play, they had an opportunity.
Just 1:05 into the final frame, Patrice Bergeron tied it up, 1-1, off a tip of Dennis Seidenberg's simple drive towards the net from the left point. The play started when Reilly Smith made a soft chip into the zone to establish the forecheck, with Brad Marchand getting the puck up to Seidenberg.
All Bergeron had to do was gain position on Pens defenseman Matt Niskanen in front.
Amidst a game with limited special teams, the Bruins then found themselves on the penalty once again in the third, with Shawn Thornton called for boarding. Matching minors from Brad Marchand for slashing and Kris Letang for embellishment sent them to the box, and the B's got to full strength.
But a turnover led to a quick Brandon Sutter snap shot off the rush, and he roofed it over Rask.
"He kind of leaned on it, then I went down and he shot it and it’s just patience for a goalie.Good shot though – I told him good shot," said the B's netminder.
Despite the 2-1 lead for the Pens, the Bruins were still able to put some pressure back on them and gain zone time in the third. The cycle was better, along with the forecheck, and the "aggressive" identity of the B's returned.
When Jussi Jokinen made it 3-1 directly after creating a turnover inside the blueline, the Bruins kept pushing. Just 19 seconds after the Pens' insurance goal, Jarome Iginla put home his third goal of the season to make it a one-goal game, sniping his one-timer past Fleury.
"I thought our guys did a great job getting that second goal, we had a couple of good chances too to tie it up," said Julien. "But at the end of the day, you have to look at the situation and if you don’t play well for two periods…it’s nice to get those kind of comebacks, but you have to earn your wins the proper way and I didn’t think tonight we played well enough to earn that win."
The best defense is puck possession and O-zone time, and the Bruins didn't have enough of that on Wednesday night through the full game.
"I don’t think we’ve played full 60s like we want to," said Rask. "Our system is hard work; we have to work hard and we have to skate hard. Whenever our feet are not moving, the end result seems to be bad for us and that’s been the case the past couple of games."
Each season, there are stretches of games where the B's (and other 29 NHL teams) falter. Even the Pens had just come off a four-game losing streak before stringing together consecutive wins against Carolina and Boston.
There's no identity crisis here; it's just about getting back to their game.
"Certainly, we can play better, there’s no doubt about that. So it’s, I guess, the ebbs and flows right now of the early season," said Julien.
"I think we have to kind of look at ourselves in the mirror here and start playing more to what our identity is and take some pride in it."
Luckily for the Bruins, they get an opportunity to do that right away, with the second game of their back-to-back on Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden.
"You can’t spot them that lead and momentum and expect to consistently go get results," remarked Iginla. "So we feel like we have to be better but at the same time, the third was a lot more like the way we like to play; with that confidence and aggressiveness. So we’ll take that and go right back at it tomorrow and try to start the game off that way."
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