Kessel, Leafs jolt sinking Bruins
Call last Friday’s 6-1 rout by Detroit an aberration. If you want to be generous, consider Sunday’s rematch, a 4-2 setback to the high-flying Wings, a disappointing but expected loss to one of the league’s elite clubs.
There is little rational explanation, however, for the Bruins’ 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs last night before 17,565 at TD Garden. Not when you have a one-goal lead with less than six minutes remaining. Not when you have the league’s top goalie, if not the best player, supposedly locking down the doors.
Yet here the Bruins are, losers of three straight and curious as to where their lockdown defense and goaltending have gone.
“Unacceptable,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “It’s one of those situations where if you have any sense of pride, you’re embarrassed about tonight. Not because the other team played well. But because we did not play to the level we should be playing. Right now, that’s been creeping in with the types of goals we’ve been giving up. It’s unacceptable. It’s pretty simple. It’s unacceptable. That sense of urgency doesn’t seem to be there. At the same time, after that Montreal game, we really did look like a team. Tonight we didn’t. Starting from the game right after Montreal — the two Detroit games and now tonight. The mistakes we’re making are just unacceptable. It’s guys not thinking, not being ready. I don’t know if there are distractions up in the air that brings that around the team. To me, tonight’s game was a very big disappointment.’’
The identity of the 2010-11 Bruins, like the three previous iterations that Julien has coached, is defense. Rare are odd-man rushes, multiple scoring chances, or third-period meltdowns.
But in the last four games, the leaky Bruins have given up 20 goals. Thomas, asked to do more amid Tuukka Rask’s inconsistency, could be wearing down physically and mentally. The demands on Thomas may explain why he failed to save Mikhail Grabovski’s winning goal when he had stopped such shots with ease all year.
To start the winning sequence, Grabovski settled the puck behind his own blue line. With Patrice Bergeron offering only a brief flick of his stick for resistance, Grabovski hurtled through center ice and went one-on-two against Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference. Grabovski’s speed prompted Seidenberg to fall, but Thomas was square and in position to stop the attacker’s bad-angle shot.
Thomas thought Grabovski was going five-hole. At the same time, Thomas was wary about Nikolai Kulemin, who had joined the rush and was going back door. Instead, with 61 seconds remaining, Grabovski went upstairs on Thomas for the winning goal. It was Grabovski’s second.
“You’ve got to take the body on skilled guys, or else they’ll dance around you,’’ said Thomas (24 saves). “But if they do get through, the goalie has to make some big saves. That didn’t happen tonight either.’’
Seidenberg’s wave-’em-in defense wasn’t the only breakdown of the night. On Phil Kessel’s second goal — yes, the ex-Bruin not only scored against his old club, but did so twice — Ference waved at the right wing’s entry. Kessel dangled through Ference and tucked the puck under Thomas at 13:27 of the third to wipe out his former team’s 3-2 lead. Perhaps it was coincidence, but Kessel taped his blade with black tape instead of his usual white.
Kessel (2-0—2, four shots) and Grabovski (2-0—2, three shots) were around the net all night. Early in the third, when the score was 2-2, Kessel and Grabovski struck iron on the same shift.
“They’re a crafty team,’’ said Gregory Campbell. “So if you let them hang around, you can see what happens.’’
At the other end, all three Boston goals were the result of blue-collar work in the danger zones. After Mark Stuart pinched to keep the cycle going, Daniel Paille threw a pass to Campbell out front that deflected off Mike Komisarek’s skate for the game’s opening goal. Late in the second, the No. 2 power-play unit struck. Brad Marchand drove to the net, and just after he backhanded a shot on goal, Luke Schenn rubbed him out with a tooth-rattling hit. But with Schenn out of position, Campbell bunted the mid-air rebound past James Reimer to tie the game at 2-2.
Then at 9:08 of the third, after Reimer stopped Adam McQuaid’s point shot, Bergeron was stationed in the low slot to bang home the rebound for what the Bruins hoped would be the game-winner. Dion Phaneuf drilled Bergeron an instant after he let the shot fly.
The Bruins should have scored more. But they couldn’t bury three of their power-play looks despite heavy pressure, especially by the No. 1 unit. David Krejci had a chance in the final minute, but he didn’t get enough muscle behind his shot. Nathan Horton (one shot, 12:31 of ice time) was so invisible he could have been selling popcorn. Tyler Seguin (zero shots, 12:12) played with pace early but faded.
“What’s happening to us is what we deserve,’’ Julien said. “If we can’t play better than that, we shouldn’t expect more than that . . . We have to stop making excuses. We’ve got to take charge of the situation.’’