At 14:50 of the third period, when his team was already in a 3-0 ditch, Shawn Thornton scored the Bruins' first goal.
Probably 50 minutes too late.
"If we could have gotten a goal early, I'm convinced it would have been a different type of game," said coach Claude Julien. "We got our first goal a little late. But you saw the momentum that it built and the energy it gave our team."
But Carolina scored the first three goals of the game and staved off Boston's late rally to claim a 3-2 victory last night before 15,300 at TD Banknorth Garden.
It was a loss that dumped the Bruins into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, as the Sabres scored a 5-1 win over Ottawa last night, giving them 62 points, 1 more than Boston. The Bruins play their next five games on the road, starting tonight in Pittsburgh.
"This is our playoffs now," said Glen Metropolit.
Thornton's first tally - a floater that crossed up goalie Cam Ward - was followed 27 seconds later by another strike from the bruising forward, better known for his fists than his goal-scoring hands. Late in the game, the Bruins did all the things they've been instructed to do since the start of the season: finish checks, crash the net, and play with desperation.
All the things that were missing at the drop of the puck.
"Obviously not the start we wanted," said Bruins goalie Alex Auld (20 saves). "It put us behind, and really after that, it took until 10 minutes into the third to get going. We've got to find a way to get off to a better start and get off on the right foot. If something like that happens, we've got to battle through it and not let it bother us."
On Carolina's first goal, captain Rod Brind'Amour carried the puck through center ice into the offensive zone, powering through the checks of Milan Lucic and Dennis Wideman. Brind'Amour found linemate Andrew Ladd, who flipped a shot past Auld at 3:01 of the first period.
Ladd doubled Carolina's advantage several shifts later. Ladd fought off Aaron Ward and Mark Stuart in front of the Boston net and gained position in the slot. Brind'Amour, stickhandling on the right-side wall, flipped a pass in front that Ladd appeared to direct with his right skate into the net at 6:33.
After watching a video replay, officials determined that Ladd didn't make a distinct kicking motion - a call that brought disagreement from the Bruins.
"Guess it has to be a really blatant kick these days," said Auld, who also saw a puck go in off a skate in his last start (by Buffalo's Thomas Vanek last Friday).
Julien didn't put up a big stink after Ladd's second goal. But when he saw the replay after the first period, Julien couldn't believe the goal stood up.
"In my mind, there's no doubt that's not a goal," Julien said. "I don't know how they could even think about calling that a goal. It's upsetting because it means we could have at least gotten a point tonight. Maybe even two."
The shellshocked Bruins couldn't respond to the controversial goal, as Ward stopped all 20 Boston shots through the first 40 minutes. In the second period, Metropolit buzzed around point man Jeff Hamilton while killing off an Andrew Ference hooking infraction and slammed a close-range slapper that Ward snared with his glove at 3:15.
Later in the period, David Krejci seemingly had Ward down and out, lifting a puck toward an empty net. But Ward flashed his glove to snatch Krejci's shot - the rookie still hasn't scored - at 8:18.
On the other end, ex-Bruin Sergei Samsonov made it a 3-0 game at 18:29 of the second period, dumping in the rebound of a point shot by defenseman Frantisek Kaberle.
As his offense fired blanks, Julien juggled his lineup. Early in the second period, Julien replaced Phil Kessel with Glen Murray on the No. 1 line. In the third period, second-line right wing Chuck Kobasew departed after skating only one shift because of what Julien termed an upper-body injury.
So Julien shuffled the deck once more, giving Thornton and Petteri Nokelainen extra shifts to take the place of Kobasew, who traveled with the team last night to Pittsburgh and is questionable for tonight's game.
The Bruins played with some spunk late in regulation. But an elbowing call on Zdeno Chara at 19:26 snuffed any chance of a six-on-five game-tying goal.
"This is as close to playoff hockey as you're going to get," said Savard. "We've got to find ways to generate more."