Blahs are getting to Bruins
PITTSBURGH - Quirky, fragmented, inconsistent, out of synch. Take your pick. The Bruins are all of that right now, and with less than a month to go in the regular season, their inefficiencies - magnified yesterday in a 6-4 loss to the highly skilled Penguins - don't make for a bright postseason forecast.
"We know what our identity is," said Boston captain Zdeno Chara, mulling an afternoon in which the Black-and-Gold allowed Sidney Crosby and Co. eight power plays, including a couple of abbreviated five-on-three chances. "It's the things we didn't do, things you're not supposed to do . . . whether that's a lack of focus, concentration . . . simple things like taking too many penalties."
After winning their previous two games, including a 2-1 edging of the Islanders Saturday on Causeway Street, the Bruins spent too much time here at the wrong end of the Igloo. They have been fighting the transition game of late, finding it hard to generate play out of their end. That task was especially hard yesterday with the Penguins constantly in control of the puck and moving it with ease in the Bruins' end. Constant infractions (some calls were questionable) led in large part to the wrong-ended approach.
Pittsburgh's lopsided advantage in power-play time (12:21 vs. Boston's 5:23) was just one measure of how the day went, and how the Penguins were able to keep building on their late-season charge up the standings. They are 8-0-0-2 in their last 10 games and 10-1-0-2 in their last 13. Anyone out there questioning whether it was correct for the Penguins to show coach Michel Therrien the door Feb. 15? With Dan Bylsma behind their bench and trade acquisitions Chris Kunitz (2-1 -3 yesterday) and Bill Guerin (1-2 -3) spicing the brew, the Penguins suddenly look poised to repeat as Cup finalists.
The Bruins, meanwhile, look like a team that flamed out in February, after putting together a sensational three-month run that had them bolt to what was once a comfortable lead in the East. They are 6-9-2-1 in their last 18 games dating to Feb. 7. Not horrible, but just not what it takes to corner prey successfully in a best-of-seven playoff series. Perhaps the only good thing that happened here for Boston was that a higher placement for Pittsburgh in the end-of-season standings could keep the Bruins from facing the Penguins in the first round.
"The last seven games, there has been a lot of traffic by the teams we are playing," said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, beaten five times before Jordan Staal steered in an empty-netter with 57 seconds to go. "They have a lot of speed. They finish their checks. Right now, they're doing all the things they're supposed to do."
Conversely, the Bruins are delivering only in bits and pieces. They have trouble generating play out of their end, in part because of sloppy play. Consequently, they don't shoot enough or follow up their few good chances with the stout work around the net necessary to score. They're blah, and they've been blah for too long to think all they have to do is recommit to a more focused, concentrated effort. They needed that a couple of weeks ago, and hoped deadline pickups Mark Recchi and Steve Montador would provide it. Well, not yet.
"We're trying to find our game," said coach Claude Julien, who felt the referees nickel-and-dimed his charges.
Game No. 71 was lost over a very short stretch of the third period, after the Bruins managed to carry to a 3-2 lead into the second intermission. Only 28 seconds into the third, Blake Wheeler was caught for holding and Pittsburgh needed only 15 seconds before ex-Bruin Sergei Gonchar nailed in a long-range wrister for the equalizer. Initially, the goal was awarded to Kunitz, who provided a screen, but it was credited to Gonchar after the game. Only 18 seconds after Gonchar's goal, Kunitz got one to keep, sent off on a breakaway by Guerin after Dennis Wideman's shot was blocked just inside Pittsburgh's blue line. Kunitz raced in after getting a step ahead of Chara and finished off with a doorstep backhander between Thomas's legs.
"I've stopped a lot of those lately," said Thomas, who also noted that the pesky Kunitz finished the day with more hits (4) than goals (2). "And that's impressive for a skilled guy."
The Bruins tied it with Michael Ryder's power-play strike at 2:54. The winger picked off a pass in the right-wing circle and fired a snap shot to the top left corner that beat Mathieu Garon. But with 9:29 gone, Petr Sykora knocked in the winner, a one-time snipe from the left circle off of a Staal relay from the goal line. Patrice Bergeron had Staal covered, let him go as Staal headed into the corner, and the pass came out with little resistance offered by a stick-waving Wideman.
"We are trying to find our identity again," said Wheeler, who had a goal and assist, ending a seven-game stretch of goose eggs. "And you know, not a great penalty by me [leading to Gonchar's power-play goal]."
Not a great day for any Bruin. Even with all the power-play action, Wideman, Chara, and Bergeron each finished minus-3. The Penguins finished with a 34-25 shot lead.
"It's not a team you want to put on the power play," said Mark Stuart. "They're up there with Detroit for having the most offensive threats. It seemed they had a lot of energy and jump, and for us it's been hit or miss lately."