The postseason is still a little less than three weeks away, but the Bruins for a month now have found scoring about as arduous a task as it is come Stanley Cup time.
Despite rolling up 31 shots, and at times forcing the trap-happy Wild to break out of their neutral-zone stranglehold, the Bruins suffered a 2-0 loss last night on Causeway Street before a less-than-enthralled crowd of 14,383. It was the ninth time the Bruins have been shut out this season -- only two short of tying the club record -- and they have gone 13 straight games without scoring more than three goals.
"We were in their end a lot, but we've got to give them credit because they did a good job," noted right winger Travis Green, who rode a new second line with Sergei Samsonov and Michael Nylander -- a trio destined to see loads of ice time in the postseason. "But we've got to find a way to score goals."
The Original 30 is chock-a-block full of clubs that find scoring vs. the Wild a mission impossible. If they don't hogtie teams between the blue lines (mission numero uno), they resort to Plan "B" and collapse around their goal, minimizing or negating follow-up chances on their net. The Bruins did a fine job escaping the trap most of the night, and landing their shots, but they couldn't break the roadblock riddle the St. Paulists presented in front of netminder Manny Fernandez (second shutout this season).
"They collapse and they're patient in front of their net," said Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, his squad's four-game winning streak snapped. "You have to shoot for the net and find a way to battle for pucks and get rebounds. They did a very good job in front of their net."
It was Boston's seventh blanking on home ice this season, their third in the last 12 games. The main reason they went out and traded for Sergei Gonchar and Nylander less than two weeks ago was to pump up the offensive volume, but thus far the decibel level has been about the same whisper it has been most of the season. With only eight regular-season games left, their goal-per-game ratio is the worst it has been since the pre-Bobby Orr mid-1960s. Meanwhile, offensive skinflints though they may be, they remain at the top of the Northeast Division, and still have a strong chance of holding home ice headed into the postseason.
"I think we've done a pretty good job, had a consistent effort for quite some time," said the unflappable Sullivan, whose puck-control preaching also insists upon a sound game in the defensive end, which in part detracts from a run-and-gun style offense. "But we have to continue to push the envelope, and we can't let tonight discourage us."
The Wild effectively won it halfway through the second period when Richard Park, set up all alone low in the left circle off a cross-ice feed from Pierre-Marc Bouchard, hammered a shot on net that Boston starter Felix Potvin appeared to have stifled when he dropped to his knees at the rear post. The force of Park's steaming slapper, however, forced the puck to bleed through Potvin's pads, and it slowly bled along the goal line, coming to a stop tucked inside the right post.
"Everyone knows what they like to do," said Potvin, now 11-8-6 on the season as Andrew Raycroft's partner. "They like to get that first goal and then shut it down."
When the goal went in, the Bruins had a 20-10 shot advantage for the first 30 minutes 15 seconds. The Wild placed only five more shots on Potvin -- one of them good for a Stephane Veilleux shorthander 1:00 into the third -- but the Bruins could muster only 11 more shots over the final 29:45. Minnesota's trappist wonks have perfected the art of sucking the life and entertainment out of a game, and last year that carried the Wild to the Western Conference finals. It can be both awful to watch and tough to knock.
Veilleux's goal, his first this season, was a high-slot deflection that was initiated by Nick Schultz's long-range slapper. It was the 13th shorthander the Bruins have allowed this season. Only Pittsburgh (15) has allowed more.
Next month, the Bruins will attempt to end their Cup drought that is going on 32 years. To break from that legacy of losing, they first will have to break out of the scoring doldrums. Not quite time to panic, but certainly time to show it if they've got it, before shutouts like last night add up to shutdown for the season.