Even the defending Stanley Cup champions must treat each game with a certain level of professionalism and respect. Yesterday, a 1-0 loss to the Avalanche before 17,565 fans at TD Garden served as the smack-in-the-face reminder that the wrong approach often translates to the wrong result.
“I think we took today’s game way too lightly,’’ said Milan Lucic, the No. 1 left wing who’s playing nothing like a first-liner so far. “We lost most of the battles. They were first on pucks. Regardless of whether we were the champs last year or not, in certain areas of the ice, they wanted the puck more than us. That’s why we weren’t able to generate enough to get that goal.’’
It was the kind of game that drives coaches cuckoo. They remind their players not to disrespect the opponent. They stress the pillars of the game plan, which, for the Bruins, is a very simple blueprint. Win battles. Drive pucks deep. Limit offensive chances. Play airtight in goal.
Aside from the latter (Tuukka Rask stopped 35 of 36 Colorado shots), the Bruins did none of those things.
“Throughout the game, I felt our team was second on the puck. We were losing races,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Then whenever we got there, they were a lot hungrier than we were. I think it’s one of those games you hope will give your players the opportunity to realize what we’ve talked about from the beginning.’’
The only strike of the day came off the stick of Milan Hejduk at 7:57 of the third period. The play, which came off an offensive-zone draw, featured a string of breakdowns. Peter Mueller beat David Krejci on the draw. Matt Duchene pounced on the loose puck and fired a pass to point man Jan Hejda.
Nathan Horton was slow to pop out to the point and challenge Hejda. So Hejda slid the puck down the left-side wall to Hejduk. Johnny Boychuk should have sealed off Hejduk, but he got tangled up with linesman Thor Nelson. As Hejduk walked the puck off the wall, he leaned around Krejci and slipped a shot on goal. The puck deflected off the shin pad of Zdeno Chara and skimmed past Rask.
“I saw the shot and I saw where it was going,’’ Rask said. “But it went off something and it went in.’’
There was no blaming Rask for either the goal or his performance. Rask hadn’t seen game action since April 10, the 2010-11 regular-season finale against New Jersey. He didn’t look like a goalie who’d been on the shelf for half a year.
Rask, looking calm and composed, played his usually square butterfly style. He was positioned perfectly for first shots and didn’t give up any second-chance sniffs off rebounds. When it was called for, Rask pulled out the acrobatics to make several stops.
“He’s probably the only bright light in this game,’’ Julien said. “Had it not been for him, this game probably could have been over much sooner than it was. He kept us in there and gave us a chance. We just didn’t respond.’’
Rask was tested early after Chara and Adam McQuaid, two of the stouter penalty-killers, went to the box in the first period. At 1:56, Chara took a foolish penalty when he cross-checked Ryan O’Byrne in retaliation for a heavy hit in the Colorado zone. Then at 3:30, McQuaid was sent off for delay of game after he lifted a puck over the glass.
The Avalanche didn’t score on either power play. But after less than seven minutes had expired in the first, Colorado had racked up a 9-2 shot advantage. For the rest of the game, they never gave back the early momentum they generated.
At the other end, Semyon Varlamov bricked up the Colorado net. Varlamov made 30 stops, none better than a third-period show-stopper on Lucic. Horton had sent a cross-crease dish to Lucic, who had all kinds of room high on Varlamov. But Lucic couldn’t elevate his shot to his liking. Varlamov pushed to his right and got in front of Lucic’s shot with 5:49 remaining in regulation.
“Just an incredible save,’’ said Colorado coach Joe Sacco. “I originally thought he missed the net. Then I come to find out that he did make a save on it. That was one of the turning points late in the game.’’
Varlamov also had to make an excellent pad save late in the second on Brad Marchand. The goalie was staring down a two-on-one featuring Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron slipped the puck under O’Byrne to Marchand. But Varlamov kicked out Marchand’s backhander at 14:54.
The Bruins go on the road for the first time this season, traveling to Raleigh to face the Hurricanes tomorrow. Instead of returning to Boston after the game, they will remain overnight in Raleigh, travel to Chicago Thursday, and remain there until Saturday’s game against the Blackhawks.
With focus and identity missing from their game, it’s the right time for the Bruins to take a business trip.
“It’s good to get away and on the road a bit,’’ Marchand said. “Get everything back in order and come back to some wins.’’