KANATA, Ontario -- As they do for every session, the Bruins rolled onto the ice yesterday afternoon at the Bell Sensplex, the Ottawa Senators' practice facility, with sticks in hand.
But the only use they had for the sticks was to lean on them during ever-brief pauses, as they tried to catch the breath that their coach had just skated out of them.
For 45 minutes, coach Dave Lewis whipped his players through various forms of sprints. They broke twice for water and did their usual stretches before and after practice, but every other minute was dedicated to punishment-via-sprints for their misdeeds in Sunday's 5-0 snoozer against Pittsburgh.
Aside from several stray pucks sitting in each net, most of the rubber was stacked in a green milk crate on the bench, never touched by a coach, player, or equipment manager. For Lewis, it was the first time in his NHL coaching career that he went through an entire practice without a puck being played.
"If I had any food in me, I'd show you," said a gassed Tim Thomas, who completed every sprint clad in the extra weight of goalie gear, as did Joey MacDonald.
Only eight days earlier, Lewis had paced his players through a high-tempo practice at Ristuccia Arena -- on a scheduled day off, no less -- after a 7-0 dud against the New York Rangers.
But yesterday, a day after the Bruins laid the egg against the Penguins (their fifth straight loss), Lewis played bad cop again. He's done so several times this season, turning the screws on his players for a lack of effort, but yesterday's session was the most brutal, reflecting his disgust in a team that has flamed out and turned a playoff push sour.
"The effort has not been there consistently," said Lewis. "It's my job to get that out of them. One way or another, they're going to work. They're going to work here, they're going to work tomorrow, and if that doesn't work, they're going to work the next practice harder than they did today. That's not going away."
The whip-cracking began at 2 p.m. when Lewis started practice with whistle blasts that indicated when the players, who were doing their usual loops around the rink, should kick it into high gear. After a brief stretch, the Bruins did hard sprints clockwise around the sheet until 2:18 p.m.
"Water!" yelled Lewis, allowing his players to take a pause for hydration.
After one minute, Lewis ordered the Bruins to perform end-to-end sprints, which lasted until the next water break at 2:26 p.m. As one set of players completed their sprints and bent over at the end line, the next group sprayed them with snow as they slammed on the brakes and made their turn.
The snowed-upon Bruins were too fatigued to complain.
Then Lewis huddled his players at one end, mapping out the sprint they would do next: an intricate dash that included several back-and-forths between blue lines, then a side-to-side skate between the boards. They performed this sprint for 10 minutes, ending with Zdeno Chara pushing Thomas with one arm to help him complete the set.
Then until 2:45 p.m., the Bruins sprinted clockwise around the rink, their last sprints of the day. After a quick debriefing, a still-fuming Lewis sent his players off the ice.
"That's the one thing you can control: your effort," said Lewis. "You can't control your talent. You can control your effort, your emotion, your passion, your commitment. Those things you control. There are some areas where maybe we're not the most talented team. But we certainly have to work harder with what we have."
The day wasn't over. As the exclamation point, Lewis ordered the players to remain at the practice facility to watch the entire replay of Sunday's loss. While Lewis and his assistants rode back to the team hotel in a nearly empty bus, the Bruins had to sit through every error they committed.
"We've got to work harder," said Marc Savard. "That's the message being sent. We can't just mail it in. We've got to work as a team if we want a chance going out. We're playing for an organization here. There's a lot of pride in the past. We've got to be better."
Because of yesterday's grueling workout, the Bruins did not schedule a morning skate at Scotiabank Place today . . . Chuck Kobasew didn't practice because he wasn't feeling well . . . According to assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, the Bruins are working to sign defenseman Matt Hunwick. The senior, picked in the 2004 draft, recently completed his career at Michigan . . . Gorton said it's up to Kevin Regan and his family whether the University of New Hampshire goalie, who will be a senior in 2007-08, will turn pro a year early.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.