The character-revealing adversity that the Boston Bruins were hoping to see at some point during the regular season has finally cracked them over their collective heads with a resounding thud.
The Bruins have now lost three games in a row after a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Sunday night that looked, felt and played out very much like last season’s playoff series against the fast, skilled and hard-checking Canes.
“We talked about facing adversity at some point in the year and here we are,” admitted Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron after road losses to Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina with Toronto on deck for Wednesday night. “We have to face that as a team together and roll up our sleeves and learn from what hasn’t been there the last few games.”
Believe it or not, this is actually a welcome development for the Black and Gold after they set NHL records with being the fastest team to ever reach 80 points in a regular season while they were being bandied about as one of the best teams in NHL history. It was all going way too swimmingly as they were even accumulating points when they went through a minor dip in play around the Christmas holidays just ahead of the Winter Classic.
But this isn’t college hockey where Jim Montgomery’s Maine Black Bears stomped everybody while building a 42-1-2 record during his senior season on the way to an NCAA championship. It’s the NHL where the regular season grinds gets to everybody and even a tiny bit of complacency or mental/physical fatigue can drop a team into a losing streak.
“We’re lucky that we’re in the position that we are,” said Boston Bruins netminder Linus Ullmark, who stopped 32-of-35 shots in the loss to Carolina. “To face a little adversity is something that you do in this league. It’s nothing uncommon. I’ve faced a lot of adversity through my career here in North America. I know what it’s all about.
“We’re in a great spot still. We’ve got one more game [before the All-Star break], try to go up to Toronto and win that one, then we have a break. Try to recharge the batteries and get on a heater again.”
Honestly, it’s healthy and productive for the Bruins to go through this in late January during an admittedly difficult road trip instead of facing this for the first time during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in April. The Bruins coaches can break down the Brandon Carlo mistakes that have led the shutdown defenseman an unsightly minus-6 over the last three games with plays like this lost one-on-one battle with Seth Jarvis that led to a backbreaking goal on Sunday.
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And there can be discussions about changing a power play that has suddenly lost all it’s juice and actively hurt the Black and Gold while going 0-for-6 with zone entry attempts that aren’t getting it done anymore.
The B’s are actually 0-for-12 on the power play dating back to the road losses in Tampa Bay and Florida as well, and were sharply criticized in the Florida games for being outworked by the opposing penalty kill units.
“We’ve gotten outworked, and people are stacking the line against us and we weren’t willing to put it in behind and work our feet to go get it,” said Montgomery.
Even David Pastrnak has looked more inconsistent as of late with costly turnovers like the one to Sebastian Aho at the offensive blue line that led directly to a breakaway goal for the Carolina Hurricanes in the loss.
The Boston Bruins coaching staff even made a decision that could be easily questioned or second-guessed when they left Ullmark out of the net for a late third period PP down 3-1, and the Hurricanes easily knifed through the B’s power play unit for a Jordan Staal shorthanded strike that iced the game.
“I think they’re good at pressuring you everywhere, the whole 200-foot [rink],” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. “They had a great checking game. They committed to it. I think their checking game led to turnovers because we exposed pucks; we didn’t protect them well and do what you say, put it in behind them and go to work in behind them. Two of their goals, their first and their third goal, were direct results of that.
“Their work ethic and how hard they were to play against led to us being tired over time because we didn’t have the puck a lot, we were chasing it a lot. They checked us really well and then they protected it well in the offensive zone.”
These are all signs of a hockey team that looks like they’re already thinking about their plans during the NHL All-Star weekend break.
“Yeah, I think so. I think you can’t deny that,” said Bergeron, when asked if the B’s looked to him like they were playing through fatigue. “That being said, you have to be pros and make sure you’re bringing it every night. A back-to-back on the road, lots of hockey, that’s part of it. That being said, [it is] nothing that other teams are not seeing. It’s part of the schedule that we all have. We have to be better.”
There’s zero question they need to be better and they will have a couple of days to regroup before a final pre-All-Star break test against a Maple Leafs team that they stunned in Boston a few weeks ago. The Leafs could close Boston’s Atlantic Division lead to under 10 points with a regulation win on Wednesday night, and really send Boston into a funk if they follow the same fast, aggressive and hard-checking path that teams like the Lightning, Panthers and Hurricanes have foraged against a Boston Bruins at less than their best.
If the Boston Bruins think they are feeling adversity now, wait to see what happens if they look like this again against the rival Leafs later this week.