With the NHL playoffs beginning to take shape on the horizon, and one of the teams blocking their view of an Eastern Conference spot in the house, the Bruins had an opportunity last night to see the stuff this team is made of.
But their special teams were not so special; the Bruins squandered a first-period lead, went scoreless on five power plays while allowing two goals to the Atlanta power play, and took 10 penalties, including one for too many men on the ice and two for delay of game.
Nothing special about those moments, and the Bruins fell, 3-2, to Atlanta, which is now 8 points ahead of Boston in the standings. The Bruins are holding in 11th place, with 20 games left.
"What's really disappointing is that it was our game in hand," said Bruins coach Dave Lewis. "We played basically the same way that we had on the road with success. The puck didn't go in for us and it went in for them.
"Special teams, obviously, were the difference."
The Bruins jumped on Atlanta, Shean Donovan scoring his sixth goal of the season at 1:29 of the first, hitting what looked a bit like a turnaround jumper from the slot. The Thrashers tied it with the first of their power-play goals at 14:35, but Brad Boyes restored Boston's lead late in the period.
Then the Bruins' sizzle fizzled in the second period, which opened with a Thrasher s power play after Marc Savard took a hooking penalty 49 seconds in. Eric Belanger converted the opportunity.
Marian Hossa's third-period goal nailed down the Atlanta victory even as the Bruins were handed three power-play chances to catch up. Each time, the Thrasher s penalty killers kept the Bruins pinned along the boards, out of position, and unable to threaten. The Bruins offered nothing special, just Boston common.
"They penalty-killed really well," Savard said. "They took a lot away. They got some goals on their power play, and our power play sort of didn't check in. They took the seams away."
Savard, who had 12 points during the recent road trip on which the Bruins won four of six games, had no points against Atlanta.
"Our special teams weren't good," said Savard. "I don't know what to say about it -- it's a tough loss."
Sometimes, it's just the bounce of the puck -- "You hit a crossbar and then they come right out and score," said Patrice Bergeron -- and sometimes it's nothing special, just a ton of missed passes and wide shots.
"They were going pretty hard at us in the third and taking away the seam passes," Bergeron said. "Obviously, we needed that big goal to tie it up and we didn't do it.
"It's frustrating, especially when we've been trying to climb in the standings."
"We weren't getting to the net," said defenseman Andrew Ference. "It's tough to score tic-tac-toe all the time."
Paul Mara's delay-of-game penalty with 3:34 left in the third period was the denouement. Atlanta was back on the power play and the Bruins were back on their heels.
"I thought we played really well five-on-five," said Lewis. "We didn't give them hardly any shots or any opportunities. In a game like that, special teams become so important. As it turned out, their special teams beat ours."
The Bruins were especially frustrated because this was a victory they could've had. Maybe even should've had.
"This would've been a great win," said Boyes. "It would've been 2 points at home and we could've jumped out a bit."