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All quiet on home front

Struggling Bruins silenced by Senators

Maybe they should rent out the building to some Charlestown rink-ratters and hit the road for the New Year. The FleetCenter has become a certified house of horrors for the Bruins, who may need to hire an exorcist to win there again.


"It's frustrating, without a doubt," coach Mike Sullivan said last night, after his bewitched, bothered, and bewildered team was blanked, 3-0, by the surging Ottawa Senators before a catcalling crowd of 16,388. "We're not in this to lose."

They're just not winning in their own building, not in nine straight games since Nov. 20, their longest home drought in four years. Seventeen home games, four victories, and five shutout losses by an aggregate 17-0. What in the name of Dit Clapper is going on here?

"It just seems like we're squeezing the stick harder here," mused captain Joe Thornton, who was held scoreless for the 13th time in his last 14 games. "On the road, we play free-spirited hockey and keep it simple."

On Causeway Street, the Bruins press themselves into panic these days, as they did last night, when they gave up gimmes to Marian Hossa and Antoine Vermette within 34 seconds early in the second period and fell into a three-goal ditch.

"We played a pretty good game until we got down, 2-0," said defenseman Sean O'Donnell. "Then we got rattled."

Just 24 hours earlier, the Bruins had come from behind to squelch Washington on the road, winning on a shorthanded goal by Ted Donato. Last night, a fluky shorthander began their unraveling after they failed to cash in on four first-period power plays, two in the first five minutes.

"We had a chance to score early and we didn't do it," said Thornton. "If we score early, it's a different ballgame."

Instead, the Bruins found themselves down a goal after 15 minutes. The puck rattled around the boards, bounced off O'Donnell's skate, and skittered over to Todd White, who could have scored only one way with his back to the cage -- with a "double 5-hole" shot that went between both his own legs and goalie Andrew Raycroft's.

It was the eighth shorthanded goal conceded by the Bruins, the fourth in three games.

"What are you going to do?" shrugged O'Donnell. "That's the way things are going."

Had Hal Gill's subsequent shot, which ricocheted off Brian Rolston's right skate and past goalie Martin Prusek, been allowed to stand, it might have made for a different night. But because Rolston was lifting his leg as the puck struck him, the officials called the goal back.

"It would have changed the momentum of the game, that's for sure," said Sullivan. "But that's how the officials saw it and we have to live with it."

Once the Senators popped in two more quickies, the night was lost with 35 minutes still to go.

"You put yourself behind the 8-ball like that, there's not much you can do," shrugged Donato.

Ottawa's second goal was a certified softy from Hossa, who was left alone just below the circle and squeezed a wrister between Raycroft and the near post at 4:41. Vermette, a rookie who's been yo-yoing between Binghamton and Ottawa, potted another at 5:15, as Radek Bonk fed him alone in front after a blue line turnover.

So it was 3-0 and Sullivan signaled for a timeout, hoping to shake his squad awake.

"I was concerned that we had that deer-in-the-headlights look," he said.

No doubt, the Bruins are dazed and confused in their own building these days and made jittery by the groans and hoots from the paying customers, who can't figure out why their road warriors (10-5-3-3) play like disoriented tourists wandering around the Big Dig when they come home.

Not that the spoked-B brethren have any better idea themselves.

"I don't know that where we play has a bearing on it," said Sullivan. "I don't know that I have an answer. It's not like we have two different game plans, one for the home rink and one for the away rink."

All Sullivan knows is that the L's and T's are piling up at an address that used to be one of the nastiest for NHL visitors. And that the Bruins play five of their next six games here, starting with tomorrow's date with the Maple Leafs, who buried their hosts, 6-0, here a few weeks ago.

After last night's game, the bull gang covered up the ice with the Celtics' parquet floor. Maybe Jerry Jacobs could keep it there for a few weeks until the spell passes. Roller hockey, anyone?

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