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Boston blue line was no barrier for visitors

For Travis Green, the shocking revelation about last night's loss wasn't the number of goals -- six big ones -- the Bruins allowed to San Jose. It was the quality of the opportunities that led to Andrew Raycroft fishing pucks out of his own net five times before his second-period dismissal.

''They weren't shots from the point going in," said Green. ''We gave up some slam-dunks."

The Bruins, eager to gain 2 points in the playoff chase, picked an awful time for their defense to mimic a sieve. Raycroft, mercifully yanked at 16:19 of the second, perhaps could have raked in the rebound that led to the Sharks' first goal. But otherwise, he regularly bailed out his porous defense, which responded by arming him with only wishes for bad San Jose fortune to keep pucks from whizzing into the cage.

When Raycroft was replaced by Tim Thomas, his culpable defensemen all whacked him on the pads, affirming coach Mike Sullivan's statement that the starting netminder was the best player on the ice last night.

''He knows he's got all the support from us," said defenseman Brian Leetch. ''We thanked him for keeping us in it. I thought that was one of his better games all year."

While Leetch owned up to playing one of his shakiest games of the season (a team-worst minus-3), it was the misfiring Bruins offense that also led to San Jose's numerous odd-man rushes. Green, the fourth-line center who skated 4:50 on the penalty kill, said the Bruins were half a step behind the run-and-gun Sharks the entire game, giving their opponent clear lanes and open ice with which to work.

In the first period, after the puck hopped over the stick of defenseman Brad Stuart, the Sharks netted a two-on-one shorthanded goal when forward Josh Langfeld tucked in his second of the night, giving San Jose a 2-0 lead. In the second period, the Bruins defense failed to pick up pinching defenseman Scott Hannan, who banged home a pass from center Patrick Marleau. And 19 seconds into the third, after a turnover caught the Bruins flowing the wrong way, Nils Ekman scored San Jose's final goal on yet another odd-man rush, beating defenseman David Tanabe.

''We were getting caught in between," Leetch said. ''They were passing right by our forecheck and coming the other way. We got caught on some pinches. Overall, it wasn't a good game for us. Guys like myself have to play better than that."

Lately, the Bruins have been more effective at playing an aggressive forecheck and hunting down pucks, causing defensive-zone turnovers and creating offense off their pressure. Last night, their pursuit was more trivial than worthwhile.

''The bottom line is that we did not pursue the puck well enough," said Tanabe, who rushed the puck and rooted himself in front of the San Jose net on Boston's lone goal. ''We didn't skate well enough. They're a West Coast-style team and we had to match their skating. We did not do that. It's one game, but we've got to bounce back. Confidence is something we need to protect for our group."

That confidence, already stretched thin with the absence of Nick Boynton (fractured kneecap), took another hit when the team lost Hal Gill in the first period after Joe Thornton belted him from behind. Gill, who had drawn the assignment to shadow Thornton, pinched a nerve in his right shoulder on the play.

He thought the pain, which traveled from his neck down his right arm, would eventually go away and he would return.

That didn't happen. And the five-man blue line corps failed to pick up the slack left by the 6-foot-7-inch defenseman.

''We needed a good effort from everybody when we lost Hal," Leetch said. ''We didn't get that."

Before last night's game, Sullivan said that Boynton, who was working out in the hallway outside the locker room after the morning skate, was approaching a return to the lineup. With Gill possibly sidelined for tomorrow's game against Los Angeles -- he said he'll be evaluated at practice today -- the Bruins would welcome another man on their blue line.

But if the team doesn't skate and leaves similar holes open, Boynton's return won't be enough to stave off a repeat of last night's defensive horror show.

''A big part of our game is pressure," Green said. ''If you're half a step behind when you're trying to play that way, you get gaping holes. When you're on, it's very effective. When you're not, it's noticeable that there's something not right."

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