There are the slimmest slices -- a slight grab by a rookie defenseman, a pipe clanged by the Boston captain -- that make the difference between a win and a loss.
"There are times in the game," said Zdeno Chara, who planted a puck off the right post in the third period with the score tied at 2, "where the game is on the edge. Those are the times we need to get better, when the game is right there. We have to be a little bit better. It's not because we don't want it. It's not because we're lazy. Sometimes we want it so much that we're overdoing it. I think it's more mental."
If that's the case, then the collective Boston squashes went into sizzle mode last night, fried after a 3-2 defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, a decision that was lost with 1.2 ticks remaining in regulation.
With rookie Matt Lashoff, making his NHL debut, in the penalty box for holding, the Canadiens took advantage, scoring their second power-play goal of the game. With three of the four Boston penalty killers chasing the play in the corner, the puck squirted out to Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray, who faked a shot and slid the puck over to partner Andrei Markov.
Tim Thomas, staring down Markov, slightly opened his pads, encouraging the defenseman to go five-hole. Instead, Markov spotted an opening between Thomas's torso and right arm, slipping a change-of-pace shot through daylight and into the net with 1.2 seconds left.
The referees waved off the remaining time because some of the 13,920 at TD Banknorth Garden pelted the ice with beverages and paraphernalia.
"Worst loss we've had all year," said Paul Mara, citing Lashoff's penalty and no call earlier when P.J. Axelsson took a two-handed slash on his left hand. "Last minute and the ref decides the game like that is extremely tough. It's not a penalty in our minds. That's when the ref has to be 100 percent sure. That's a questionable call there."
Lashoff, who tried to steer Montreal forward Radek Bonk wide of the goal, was sent off for holding at 19:15. Bruins coach Dave Lewis said he initially thought it wasn't a penalty. But after reviewing the video, Lewis said Lashoff reached out toward Bonk.
"His performance was certainly not an indicator of the penalty," said Lewis of Lashoff. "His performance was way and above more important to him. He'll probably tell you, 'Well, I shouldn't take the penalty.' But we've got to kill that penalty. That's what penalty killers do. That's what goalies do. That's what guys do. You bail out your teammate."
The loss, Boston's fifth, was especially rancid because the Bruins thought they had played one of their most thorough games of the season. In the first period, the power play, which entered clicking at only 10.8 percent, generated movement and scoring opportunities on Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet (34 saves).
There was a grind-it-out goal by Phil Kessel, the rookie's second in two games, when he kicked off the play with a strong forecheck on Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek that forced a turnover. Glen Murray picked off Komisarek's clearing pass and fed the puck to Patrice Bergeron.
Meanwhile, Kessel came off the wall and drove to the net, where he took a pass from Bergeron that rattled off his skate and past Huet at 10:32, tying the game at 1 (Montreal forward Michael Ryder netted the opening goal at 1:04).
There was a power-play goal by Chara, his first strike as a Bruin, during a critical five-on-three man advantage. The power play started when forward Alexei Kovalev was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct at 16:32 of the second period. Kovalev then appeared to spew additional venom toward referee Don VanMassenhoven, who promptly tacked on a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct. Kovalev smashed his stick into the glass in the penalty box before skating toward the dressing room.
The Canadiens went down another skater when defenseman Craig Rivet was sent to the box for a double minor (hooking, unsportsmanlike conduct) at 18:21. Eight seconds later, after Bergeron dished the puck to Chara at the point and Wayne Primeau parked himself in front of Huet, the captain cranked a fast-moving slapper that sailed over Huet, tying the game at 2.
Chara, who called it an energizing goal, pumped his fists. But Chara's potential game-winner in the third period, which he ripped with two Montreal penalty killers laying on the ice trying to block the shot, hit nothing but iron, the closest the Bruins would come to scoring in the final frame.
"We played well as a team," said Mara. "We got great goaltending. We got a power-play goal. Our penalty kill did all right until the last minute. As a team, we played well. But we've got improvements to make. Tough loss."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.