When Milan Lucic scored to give Boston a 2-1 lead 1:21 into the third Saturday night in Carolina, it appeared that trend would continue. After all, the Bruins had outscored opponents 61-24 in the third period this season coming into the game.
But the reason for that third-period dominance was the Bruins' ability to put together complete 60-minute efforts. That sustained focus has slipped a bit of late, and on Saturday it cost them as Carolina was the team to mount a furious late rally and pull out a 4-2 win.
"We're usually pretty good when we have the lead or if we get the lead in the third period," Lucic said. "But it just wasn't there tonight."
In truth, it hasn't been there for a while. The Bruins returned from their holiday break with a shaky 2-1 overtime win in Phoenix and a 4-1 loss in Dallas. They perked back up for dominant wins over New Jersey and Calgary by a combined 15-1 count, but lost to Vancouver, had to rally late to beat Winnipeg and played down to Montreal's level, barely escaping with a 2-1 win. On Saturday, they weren't able to escape Carolina.
"We talked about after the Christmas break our game has kind of slipped a bit," Lucic said. "We haven't really put together 60-minute efforts, other than taking the Calgary game out of it. It was eventually going to catch up to us. The goal there to tie it kind of had eyes and found the back of the net."
The Bruins had their chances. After Lucic picked the far top corner with a perfectly-placed snipe from the right circle, Boston enjoyed a bit of a surge. Less than a minute later, the fourth line showed a glimpse of its usual energy, forcing a turnover in deep that led to a pair of chances for Daniel Paille, but he couldn't put it home.
"It was right after my goal and it was a real good shift after we got the lead," Lucic said. "A thing that we've done well all year, especially after October, is we've had that killer instinct to extend the lead. It also seemed like Piesy [Paille] couldn't get the puck up there. We weren't able to get that one to extend the lead and they just got some shots through from the point that found their way in. They kept their game simple and just tried to chip pucks in get the pucks to the D and get them on net and it worked for them."
Having weathered that storm, the Hurricanes started to push back, and eventually took control down the stretch. Justin Faulk scored with 6:02 left to tie it with a point shot tipped in front. Jay Harrison added the game-winner with 1:30 left off another deflection in front, and Eric Staal ended the outburst with an empty-netter for three goals in a five-minute span.
"The difference tonight was ourselves," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "The goals that we gave them, we got pushed off the puck too easily. Some night you find ways to win and some nights you find ways to lose. Tonight we certainly found a way to lose this game. Everything seemed in control even though I didn't think we had a lot of players that were at their best. Nonetheless we felt we had asserted control of the game and then late in the game their desperation took over. We got pushed off the puck and turned the puck over and their battle won over ours."
That's not a first between these clubs this season, as Carolina has now won all three meetings. The Hurricanes are just 13-23-7 against the rest of the league, while Boston is 28-9-1 against the rest of the NHL, but Carolina has their number.
"It's unfortunate that we give up six points in the season to the Hurricanes," Lucic said. "We've got to be better no matter who the opponent is."