After last night's 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, one in which the Bruins handed their opponents a three-goal lead in the first period, coach Dave Lewis praised his club for its third-period resiliency.
"I thought our guys showed a lot of effort and emotion to come back," said Lewis, after his team rallied for two goals in the final period to make it a one-goal game. "I thought we became physical. I thought we started to control play. We had chances. We generated things."
The sweet-smelling bouquet Lewis threw for his players' late-game rally, however, didn't mask the stink of their lifeless and legless start.
For most of the first period and part of the second, the Bruins made careless mistakes. They turned the puck over in their zone. They didn't win battles in the corners and in front of the net. They didn't drive to the net and create havoc for ex-Bruin Andrew Raycroft, who exited the game in the second period after suffering an injury while making a save on Jeff Hoggan.
Yes, the game has been sanitized -- perhaps to an extreme -- of the physical play that was the league's trademark until last year's cleansing. But even with the makeover, this game still requires boots and hard hats, and in the first period, when the Bruins gave away the game, they didn't bring the right equipment to battle.
"I didn't think we came out with a lot of emotion," Lewis said. "We ended with a lot of emotion. I'd like to start with a lot of emotion and end with a lot of emotion. For the most part, we've started games pretty well -- passion, emotion, physical play. But tonight, for some reason, maybe that first goal put us on our heels a little bit."
Lewis, a defensive-minded coach, had counted on a consistent, mean, and thorough blue-line corps to forge the identity of the 2006-07 club.
Last night, it was a leaky Boston defense, which has made it a habit recently of fattening their netminders' goals-against averages and sizzling their psyches, that once again led to a Boston goalie -- it was Tim Thomas's turn last night -- getting yanked by his coach.
There was a muffed clear by Zdeno Chara that led to Darcy Tucker's early power-play goal. There was an utter disregard to lift Michael Peca's stick in front of the net, where the pesky Toronto forward tipped a Bates Battaglia pass through Thomas (seven saves on 10 shots). There was no urgency to move Chad Kilger from the slot area on defenseman Bryan McCabe's fling from the point, leading to a tip-in by the forward that made it a 3-0 game and ended Thomas's night.
At the start of the first intermission, Lewis told Brian Finley, promoted from Providence Tuesday to replace Hannu Toivonen, that he'd be playing the second period.
"I had to do something," Lewis said. "It turned out maybe it was the goalie change that grabbed the attention of the players. I don't think he could have done anything on Peca's goal out front. The first goal was bang-bang. Had to change something."
The score sheet, which had the Bruins outshooting the Leafs, 19-10, in the first period, didn't capture the reality of the first 20 minutes. Raycroft had clear looks at Boston shots. Thomas did not, thanks to the Toronto forwards who weren't afraid to clog the danger zone in front of the Boston net.
"We have to own that area," Lewis said. "We didn't own that area enough."
Marco Sturm and Marc Savard scored in the second period. But they were matched by strikes from forwards Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who took advantage of Boston's failure to clear the crease and solved a helpless Finley (24 saves).
In the third period, the Bruins finally showed some life, as P.J. Axelsson and Wayne Primeau scored to trim Toronto's lead to 5-4. They hit. They steered Toronto forwards away from the crease. Their defensemen pinched and joined the play, while their forwards crashed the net and made life harder on backup Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who stopped a Shean Donovan shot with a cartwheel save in the third period.
"We don't want to give up five or six goals against," said Paul Mara, who had an unsightly minus-4 performance. "We're a 2-1, 3-2 team. We have to find a way to get it done."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.