For a good four minutes of the second period, after Toronto scored the fifth of eight straight goals and Bruins coach Claude Julien had seen enough of his starting netminder, Tim Thomas was nowhere to be found.
While Alex Auld took over the crease, Thomas disappeared under the stands to throw a nutty, relieving himself of the frustrations of a second straight yanking.
"It's tough to have a game like that in front of your home crowd," said Thomas (18 saves on 23 shots), one of 20 Bruins missing his A game in last night's 8-2 thumping by the Maple Leafs. "It's just tough to be in a game like that period. I don't care if it were in an empty rink in the South Shore."
Last night, 15,483 came to TD Banknorth Garden, wondering if the Bruins would continue the reclamation project they started with a 1-0 overtime loss to Florida Tuesday and a video session Wednesday.
If this string of rotten play holds up, however, Thomas's visions of an empty rink might come true.
"I don't think it's time to panic," said Julien. "But it's certainly time to address and make those adjustments. When I say panic, it's not that we're not concerned. Of course, we're concerned when you lose games by that score. Right now, it's not just one player. It's everybody. We're totally out of synch. I don't know if it's the pressure we're starting to feel or whether we just have to take a step back. Our leaders and our best players have to start being those kinds of guys. We've just got to find our game."
After a 10-2 embarrassment against Washington Monday, the Bruins aimed to perform their cleansing in the two following days to purge the ills of the smackdown. But after three straight losses in which they've been outscored, 19-4, the Bruins are on a fast track to becoming punch lines yet again.
"It's obvious that we're not playing with the desperation and the energy that we need to be playing with," said Zdeno Chara. "It sounds funny when I say it, but we have to put it behind us and get ready for the next one. We have to regroup as soon as possible. There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. Games are coming up. Important games. We all know what we're playing for. A week ago we played with lots of energy and lots of desperation. We just have to find it again."
Less than a week ago, the Bruins started to gain traction with their fans by claiming their sixth straight win. But two gag jobs in three nights have served as a collective kick to their home crowd, which would have gotten more of their money's worth last night chowing down in the North End instead of watching the debacle.
Monday's humiliation and last night's repeat have exposed the Bruins for what they currently are: a team stripped of all confidence that has collapsed in every aspect of its game.
"It kind of caught us all by surprise," said Thomas of the club's sudden thud.
Neither Thomas nor Auld has made the big, timely save to bail out his teammates.
The defense has sprung more leaks than a plumbing job completed by the Three Stooges.
And the offense, with the No. 1 line of P.J. Axelsson, Marc Savard, and Glen Murray being the most guilty party, has done nothing to make opposing netminders quake in their skates.
Peter Schaefer scored the game's first goal at 11:40 of the first period when he tucked a backhander between the pads of goalie Vesa Toskala.
But the next eight goals had to be fished out by Boston netminders. Forward Jason Blake kicked off the Toronto outburst with a power-play goal at 14:42 of the first period (one of four man-advantage strikes for the Leafs), then forward Alexei Ponikarovsky gave his club the lead with a two-on-one wrister at 1:17 of the second period.
Defenseman Bryan McCabe scored the winner when his point shot glanced off Chuck Kobasew's skate and into the net at 4:48, forward Matt Stajan jammed a puck under Thomas at 8:05, and forward Nik Antropov ended the goalie's night with a power-play strike at 11:50 of the second.
The Leafs scored three more goals on Auld (14 saves on 17 shots) before Phil Kessel netted his 16th of the season with 36 seconds remaining in the stinker.
"If you look at the goals that are scored on us, we've got D going to the points, all our forwards sagging down in the crease area, and it's like, 'Where did all this come from?' " Julien said. "That's what slumps are all about. That's why we have to settle everybody down and get back to our game here. The sooner the better."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.