It was bound to catch up to them.
For three straight games, the Bruins allowed the first goal but were able to rally to victories. Last night, they fell behind again but couldn't even get one goal, much less overcome a deficit. The result was a 2-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the FleetCenter in Boston's first game back home since Oct. 8.
After a successful road trip in which they beat the iron of the Western Conference -- most notably Dallas and Colorado -- the Bruins came out flat and never could generate much of anything. Part of that was the desperation of the Hurricanes, who were winless in their first five outings (0-2-3), and part of it seemed to be a letdown from the high of the trip.
"We couldn't seem to muster the energy or the emotion we needed in order to be effective out there," said coach Mike Sullivan, whose club's winning streak ended at four games. "It was a combination of things. We couldn't generate the energy or emotion to be effective and we played against a hungry team that plays a real conservative style and makes you work for your scoring chances. I thought early in the game we were too selective with the puck instead of simplifying the game and shooting."
If there was anything positive, it was once again the play of goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who stopped 30 shots.
After long periods away from their home rink, teams always talk about being wary of their first game back. On the road, there are no distractions, no family obligations, and nothing to do but bond with each other, practice, and play games.
Traditionally, the Bruins have always tried to guard against a falloff in their play in that first game after the annual circus visit, but for the last several years, it hasn't been a problem. Prior to last night's defeat, the club was 3-0-3 in contests following the October journey.
"Any time you come off a long road trip like that, if you've been around the league long enough, you realize that first game back presents a challenge and that's something we talked about and we couldn't seem to avoid it," said Sullivan. "It's hard to be effective in this league if you don't bring energy and emotion."
In many respects, it was a typical Boston-Carolina contest, witnessed by only 12,104. There was plenty of hooking, holding, and bottling up of the neutral zone. There were not many scoring chances.
The last time the Hurricanes won was March 12, beating the Sabres in overtime in Buffalo on their way to finishing last in the NHL. Despite their disappointing record, general manager Jim Rutherford said he wasn't disturbed by his team's effort. "We've played five pretty good games," said Rutherford.
Given Carolina's record, the Bruins were expecting a desperate opponent, and that's exactly what they got. Rookie center Eric Staal, who was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft, tallied his first NHL goal when he put the Hurricanes on top to stay at 1:57 of the first period.
In the second, veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell, in uncharacteristic fashion, got into a fight with Carolina right wing Jesse Boulerice at 14:03 of the period, but O'Donnell couldn't spark his teammates, who had trouble battling their way into the attacking zone.
Through two periods, the Hurricanes outshot the Bruins, 22-13. There was even more smothering early in the third when the game slowed to a crawl. At 9:52, when Glen Murray teed up a slapper on goalie Kevin Weekes (18 saves), it marked just the second shot of the period for the home team, who finished the period with just 10.
Right wing Jeff O'Neill closed out the scoring with his first of the season at 12:47. Center Josef Vasicek dropped a pass to O'Neill, who beat Raycroft with a slapper from atop the right circle. Staal was credited with an assist -- his first in the NHL.
Call it a letdown, call it an off night, call it fatigue, but whatever the explanation, it all added up to a loss.
"You can make excuses every time you lose if you want," said Sullivan. "The reality is that the grind of the NHL schedule is a challenge and every team deals with it. We've got to find a way to fight through it. We were fortunate on the road trip to be able to come back from some deficits but in the long term, I don't think that's the right approach. We've got to be a better team out of the gate."