Flyers humble Bruins
Thorough collapse is cause for concern
For the slip-sliding Bruins, it has come down to this most unlikely scenario: gut-check time tomorrow at home against the lowly Phoenix Coyotes, with everybody in the organization anxious to see what kind of effort they can generate.
"I think the next game will dictate a lot of what this is all about," coach Claude Julien said after last night's 4-2 flop against the Flyers before 17,020 at TD Banknorth Garden, a rout despite the two-goal margin. "Is it something that continues to slide? Or are we going to turn this around and just call this a bad game?"
It was bad all right. No emotion. Hardly any will to win. Puck battles lost in every corner of the rink. Getting bullied and bested on home ice by a team that thrives on intimidation and physical play.
For some reason, the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins played downright scared.
"We're not playing with any emotion," said Michael Ryder (one shot in 15:33 of action). "We're not showing the most passion on the ice. When teams come in and outwork you in your own building like that, it's not a good way to come off a couple games where we played well.
"All of a sudden, we're struggling again. For us right now, we need to find consistency in our game. It's tough to play one good game, then in the next one, you just don't have it."
The peak-and-valley stumble of shame is the most troubling thing for the Bruins, who thought they had corrected a 1-3-2 skid by laying a 6-1 beatdown on Florida last Tuesday, then following it up with a 6-0 thumping of Anaheim two nights later.
Occasional stinkers? Every team has them. But the Bruins have crested and smacked bottom in a week's span, indicating that there might be a deeper ailment than the usual suspects like fatigue, injuries, or the simple rhythm of an 82-game schedule.
"We thought we were making some good strides last week in finding our game again," said Julien. "Obviously tonight, I think we might have taken one backwards.
"It's what this game's all about. You've got to try and focus on your next game, make the corrections that need to happen, and hopefully with a solid effort the next game, maybe we'll be able to forget this one."
Other than a first-period power-play strike by Patrice Bergeron, there was little good to remember from the flameout. After starting the sequence with an off-balance cross-corner dump to Marc Savard, Bergeron set up at the left circle, having opened up some space for himself by getting rid of the puck. Savard sent it back to Zdeno Chara, who shuttled the puck down to Bergeron for an open one-timer. Bergeron didn't miss, hammering a sizzler past goalie Antero Niittymaki (22 saves) at 14:25.
But even with a one-goal lead after the first period, Julien noted that his players didn't have the jump they'd need against an aggressive Philadelphia club. During the first intermission, he reminded them to move their legs.
Savard responded early in the second period by rooting himself in the defensive zone and sending a telegraphed outlet pass to Phil Kessel that Flyers forward Scottie Upshall easily picked off. Upshall went the other way and squeezed the tying goal past Manny Fernandez (22 saves) at 1:49 of the second.
"It was a bad giveaway," Savard acknowledged. "I haven't had too many of those in a while. But it was right on his tape. I took it upon myself to get it back, but obviously, I fell short. I made a mistake that cost our team there. Hopefully, you learn from that stuff and do better next game."
The Bruins survived the rest of the second but collapsed in the third as they watched the Flyers pour three straight goals past Fernandez.
Ex-Bruin Andrew Alberts triggered the outburst by sending a blue-line floater on goal that forward Simon Gagne tipped past Fernandez at 2:22.
Several shifts later, Gagne and linemates Mike Richards and Mike Knuble outworked Boston's top defensive pairing, Chara and Aaron Ward. First, Richards beat Chara to a loose puck behind the Boston net and dished to Gagne while absorbing the captain's late-arriving check. Then Gagne spotted Knuble stationed in front and hit him with a pass that the former Bruin collected and powered past Fernandez at 5:43.
"They won every battle," Julien said. "We had two guys on their one and they still came out with the puck. Just one of those games where we didn't do much that was worthy of recognition."
The Flyers capped their charge after Chuck Kobasew was nabbed for holding the stick in the offensive zone. At the other end, Knuble spotted Gagne open at the far post. Gagne took the pass and tapped an easy shot past a helpless Fernandez at 16:26.
"Certainly wasn't a pretty one," said Julien. "I'm not going to stand here and pretend that it was."