Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C., the Hurricanes used a familiar formula to hand Boston a rare loss. Familiar because it's the way the Bruins have won so many of their games in recent years.
Boston was outworked and outhustled for much of Saturday's 4-2 loss. The Bruins lost too many battles for the puck and weren't physical enough against a team they should have been able to manhandle.
The fact that they stayed out of the penalty box was a good thing. That they abandoned much of their trademark hard-to-play-against style in the process to do so? Not so much.
The Bruins didn't give Carolina a power play and had just one penalty all game, part of a set of matching slashing minors for Milan Lucic and Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen in the final minute. That was a far cry from the clubs' last meeting, when the Bruins melted down and ended up with 72 minutes in penalties, while Carolina scored two late 5-on-3 goals to break open a 4-1 victory.
But there's discipline and then there's lethargy. There wasn't much intensity at all from the Bruins on Saturday. They outshot Carolina 35-21, but did not make things nearly difficult enough on Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who got to see just about every one of those pucks coming at him, while his defensemen had the time and space to clear away the rebounds. The Bruins failed to produce the kind of net-front presence that fuels their attack when it's at its strongest.
"He played well," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Ward. "He made some good saves, but again it's about creating traffic and I didn't think we did a great job at pouncing on those loose pucks. You've got to get your nose dirty and they did [Saturday]. They did a great job in front of Timmy [Thomas]. They stood there and held their ground. Sometimes it's about desperation and they had more than we did."
Thomas didn't see a lot of action, and he certainly didn't see the three pucks that got past him. Other than the empty-netter that sealed the win after Thomas was pulled for the extra attacker, each of the Carolina goals came off tips and deflections created by getting traffic in front.
"It was basically tips, skates and knucklepucks," Thomas said. "They did the right thing. They'd throw it at the net with traffic and you see what happens. And sometimes you win games like that."
The Bruins have often won games that way, but didn't do it enough on Saturday. This time, it was the opponent that got the breaks and the fortunate bounces. But it was also the opponent that worked for those breaks and earned those bounces.
"[It was] not good enough for the full 60," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said of the club's effort. "I'm not sure that we had everyone going all night. They got some pretty good bounces too, some knucklepucks and a couple went off people too, but I think we need to create some more and bury our chances when we get them.
"A game like tonight, it's the really simple plays," Thornton added. "Obviously the puck was bouncing all over the place. The ice was not the best, to say the least. But we have to be hard on pucks in all areas of the ice. I'm not sure if we were everywhere all over the ice. I think we can be better there."
The Bruins have been better for most of the season, but they've gotten away from that style a bit of late. Saturday should serve as a good wakeup call for how they need to play as they continue one of the toughest stretches of their schedule, with six games in nine days starting Monday in Florida.