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Bruins search for winning formula

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / October 14, 2011

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RALEIGH, N.C. - The disappointment, following their third and latest loss on Wednesday, would have been tempered had the setbacks taken place following honest efforts.

But what’s been curious about the one-goal losses - 2-1 to Philadelphia, 1-0 to Colorado, and 3-2 to Carolina - has been the flickering level of hard-hat engagement with which the Bruins have played.

“You can lose games where you’re strictly outplayed, you’re outmatched by the other team, or completely outworked,’’ Andrew Ference said. “Then you can lose games where you didn’t play up to your standards. The frustrating part is that we know some of these losses are because we feel we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win because of our inconsistencies, just not playing to our standards.’’

When the Bruins are at their best, they play with an edge. They’re in opponents’ faces. They’re snorting steam from their nostrils. For 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game, similar to segments in the two previous losses, the ho-hum Bruins didn’t have enough steam to fog a window.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that the Bruins have not logged a fight in four games. Last year, they pointed to regular-season dustups against Dallas, Atlanta, and Montreal in their nest was poked.

They aren’t necessarily looking to brawl. But what they’ve been missing is the emotion and bite and fire that often precipitate their gloves coming off.

“That’s a fine line. It’s not every night you’re going to have four fights to start off the opening faceoff, like in Dallas,’’ Gregory Campbell said. “We’re a tough team. It’s something we’re capable of doing. Right now, it’s more about us putting ourselves on the line as far as blocking shots, winning battles, out-hitting the other team. We’re a big, strong team. That’s how we have to play. Yeah, being 1-3, there’s certainly some lack of emotion that we need for 60 minutes. We’re all determined to get back to that.’’

After four games, it looks like the Cup hangover has slowed the Bruins’ legs. They’ve had some hiccups, such as Jordan Caron coughing up the puck prior to Jiri Tlusty’s third-period goal on Wednesday. But their wavering level of intensity and execution indicates mental slackness.

At the same time, the Bruins are discovering how desperate every opponent will be to knock off the champs.

“There’s been so much talk about the hangover,’’ Campbell said. “We want to be the team to prove that theory wrong. I think it’s a combination of some systems errors with a lack of the compete level that we, as a team, hold ourselves accountable to. We pride ourselves on being the hardest-working team in the league, the team that’s going to come in, outwork, and outcompete every other team.’’

After Wednesday’s loss, Tim Thomas noted the team is not far from where it wants to be. The defense looks sharp. Between Thomas (1-2-0, 2.02 goals-against average, .933 save percentage) and Tuukka Rask (0-1-0, 1.02, .972), the goaltending has been excellent.

If their forwards can provide more jam and push around the net, the Bruins’ game should come around. It just so happens, however, that a handful of their go-to guns have stumbled at the start.

Tyler Seguin (one goal, a full-bore, high-glove snapper at that) looked comfortable at center against Carolina. Brad Marchand (2-2-4) has been buzzing around the goal and disturbing opponents as usual.

Some of the veterans haven’t had the youngsters’ crispness. Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have one assist each. Rich Peverley scored two goals against Tampa Bay, but has otherwise been kept off the scoresheet. Before suffering a core injury in practice on Tuesday, David Krejci hadn’t found his pace.

“We don’t have everybody going at once,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “We’re still close in games. If we had everybody playing closer to the level we expect them to, those one-goal losses would probably transpire to wins.’’

When the Bruins are clicking, they’re rolling four lines and driving pucks deep. Their collective misfiring has created too many gaps in their tempo.

“It’s not smooth right now,’’ Ference said. “I even look at some of our preseason games. They had more of that rhythm going. Right now, it seems like we’re not getting consistent shifts strung together. That rhythm to our game is just lacking a little bit. There’s been spurts to it. I think a lot of it is staying within our style of game and doing it every shift.’’

Adam McQuaid traveled to Chicago yesterday with his teammates, but his status for tomorrow’s game against the Blackhawks is unknown. Julien did not say whether McQuaid had suffered a concussion. “We’re not 100 percent sure what it is yet,’’ Julien said. McQuaid banged his head into the RBC Center end boards in the third period Wednesday. After struggling to his skates - he even tried to lift Ference’s stick, mistaking his partner for a Carolina forward - McQuaid completed his shift. He spent several minutes on the bench before skating to the dressing room. If McQuaid can’t play, Matt Bartkowski would reenter the lineup. Bartkowski has been a healthy scratch the last three games . . . Krejci will not play Saturday. The No. 1 center will remain in Boston. Julien said Krejci is day to day . . . Instead of flying to Chicago after Wednesday’s loss, the Bruins remained here overnight. When possible, they are planning to stay overnight after certain road games, then fly out the following day to maximize sleep. “Hopping on a plane after a tough game, you’re pretty tight,’’ Ference said. “You’ve got to quickly get changed, showered, dressed, hop on a bus, hop on a plane, sit in your seat a couple hours. You get off the plane, you feel 10 years older. I think it’s good for the body. You get a lot better sleep in the night.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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