Bruins' poor effort defies easy explanation
SUNRISE, Fla. - Sure, they ran headlong into a dazzling goaltending performance by Tomas Vokoun, owner of a 41-save shutout. And yes, they had their legs and got the better of the Panthers in the first period, outshooting the home team by a 15-7 margin.
But there aren't many excuses remaining for the Bruins, losers of a 2-0 decision before 19,343 at the BankAtlantic Center last night, and winners of only one of their last six matches.
Injuries? All major players have checked in healthy except for Michael Ryder. Feeling tired? Shouldn't have been an issue for a club that hadn't played since Tuesday. Mental fatigue? Three days of recharging in the South Florida sunshine should have addressed that issue.
The bottom line is that the first-place Bruins, as they're playing right now, aren't a better team than the Panthers. Florida, in the thick of a dogfight for a playoff spot, has more points (31) over the last two months than Boston (28). Last night, the Panthers showed they're a more desperate bunch than the suddenly soft Bruins. The hosts had more team speed. They blasted the Bruins off the puck. Most important, they dominated the dirty areas and kept the Bruins from getting traffic, setting screens, and making life tough for Vokoun.
"We had a chance to win this game tonight," said coach Claude Julien. "I thought we skated well enough. We had the energy to do it. As the game went on, we got sloppier and sloppier. There's times during the season where you've got to convince your guys to start doing the dirty work again. Maybe things have been too good for us. Maybe it's time we got our noses dirty."
The Bruins outshot the Panthers, 41-29. They had a four-minute power play in the first period (Dennis Wideman was clipped by Panthers forward Michael Frolik's high stick). The Panthers took another high-sticking double minor with one second left in the second when forward Richard Zednik hit Andrew Ference in the face.
The result: Nothing.
"I think we had a lot of energy tonight. That wasn't the issue," Julien said. "It was more of concentration and a lack of willingness to go to the dirty areas. We can have 41 shots on net. But if everything's from outside and the goaltender can see everything, I don't think you're going to score too many goals that way."
Vokoun came up big in several situations. In the second period with the game scoreless, Vokoun kept Milan Lucic off the board. Lucic and Blake Wheeler broke out on defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Wheeler, charging down the right wing, slipped a pass out front to a streaking Lucic, who had a step on defenseman Karlis Skrastins. But Vokoun blasted off his left skate and got in front of Lucic's shot at 8:34.
In the third period, when Patrice Bergeron curled around the net for a wraparound stuff, Vokoun got his left pad on the center's shot and prevented the puck from going over the line. Approximately 20 seconds later, at 6:44, the Panthers made it a 2-0 game on forward Radek Dvorak's second goal. Dvorak's goal wasn't official, as video replay was required to determine whether Bergeron's shot had crossed the line. Once replay showed that Vokoun kept the puck out, Dvorak's goal was counted.
Earlier in the third, Dvorak busted the scoreless string with a shorthanded goal. After taking a pass from Bouwmeester, Dvorak blew past P.J. Axelsson, used his body to protect the puck from an onrushing Zdeno Chara, then roofed a shot over Thomas (27 saves).
"It was the same exact scenario that happened two or three times earlier in the game," said Thomas, helped in the second when the Panthers bonked shots off the right post twice on the same flurry. "The puck was bouncing everywhere tonight. They're a fast team that likes to take some fast breaks."
On the flip side, the Bruins didn't do enough to put the Florida defensemen on their heels. Marc Savard (minus-2) recorded zero shots. David Krejci also failed to put a shot on goal. Lucic put four pucks on net but wasn't credited with any hits. Phil Kessel landed only one of his four attempts.
"If anything, it was getting more traffic to the net," Ference said. "We filtered so many shots toward it. But we didn't have guys with screens, guys with rebounds, or real strong drive to the net. That was probably the biggest issue. If you're able to get that many shots through, something should go in off a rebound, a screen, or something."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.