They scored a rare power-play goal and grabbed the early lead that's been so elusive this season. And they did it in the flukiest of fashions imaginable. On the opening faceoff of the power play, Montreal center Tomas Plekanec won the draw cleanly off Patrice Bergeron, but he sent back on his own goal and Habs netminder Carey Price whiffed on the slow-rolling puck.
"A few times this year we have started out the game behind," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said, "so when you get a bounce like that and get out ahead you hope it can be something that cascades into something else, but it didn't happen."
Instead of building off that lead, the Bruins came out flat in the second period and allowed Montreal to tie it. Then in the third, Plekanec was on the opposite side of a fortunate bounce to tally the winner for a 2-1 decision that dropped the reigning Stanley Cup champion Bruins into last place in the Eastern Conference.
Plekanec had a chance from the right wing midway through the third, but his initial shot was blocked by Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid. The puck bounced right back to Plekanec, though, and the Habs sniper quickly fired it past a surprised Thomas inside the far post.
"McQuaid blocked it first and it bounced right back to him, that always messes everything up, all the angles and everything," Thomas said. "And then you have Plekanec, I mean he took a shot from 10 feet away, he's a goal scorer."
Goal-scoring is the biggest thing lacking from the Bruins right now. They have now been held to two goals or fewer in six of their first nine games, managing just seven total goals in their six losses.
Once again, the Bruins' lack of scoring wasn't from a lack of chances. Boston had a 35-30 edge in shots and plenty of those opportunities were legitimate scoring bids. But not a single shot off a Bruins stick got past Price, and just creating chances is no longer good enough for a team that has sunk to the conference cellar.
"We obviously have to work through it and find a way," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "You know, it's one thing to realize that and say that we're right there but it's not good enough. Right now, it's about finding answers and not, I guess, getting frustrated and getting down on ourselves. We have to make sure. We're character guys in here and we have to show it."
Despite their 3-6-0 record, the Bruins insist their game is not far off from where it needs to be.
"I don't think we are that far off," Thomas said. "I've been saying that for a few games, but it's the truth. I don't think we are that far off. The margin of error is very small. We're getting far off from where we want to be in the win column, but as far as our game, it's not that far off."
Bruins coach Claude Julien disputed that notion in his post-game news conference, showing an obvious displeasure with the team's overall approach so far this season.
"I don't know if we're close," Julien said. "I know we're not good enough, and [Thursday] wasn't good enough. I don't know how close we think we are, but we're not that close right now. Not [Thursday night] anyway."
And Julien further disputed that the only issue is the club's struggles to convert its scoring chances. The lack of a consistent effort throughout the course of each game is his far more damning indictment of the club.
"I don't know if I want to attribute our loss to just [not being able to finish]," Julien said. "I think it's a lot more than that. No. 1, the inability to focus for 60 minutes is pretty obvious and apparent. When you play the way you do the first period and seem to be heading in the right direction, then come out in the second period and play that way, it certainly shows a lack of focus, and what that translated to was a lack of execution. It just kind of follows suit that your game gets worse and worse. That's what we're going through right now. Unfortunately, we're not sitting here looking at one or two players you can move around. You're looking at the majority of the team. That's where the issue is, and this is what we have to find a way to correct."
That team-wide malaise has put Boston in last place in the East, and made for many a restless night for their coach.
"I don't know if I imagined any of that stuff right now," Julien said when asked if he ever could have anticipated being in last place at this point in the season. "I'd probably get nightmares thinking about how we're playing right now more than anything else. It's more about our team right now. I don't care where we are in the standings. What I care about is how we play, and right now, we're not playing at all to the level we should be."