Bruins Continued Struggles Against Non-Playoff Teams Could Haunt Them in Quest for Home Ice in Playoffs

Bruins Continued Struggles Against Non-Playoff Teams Could Haunt Them in Quest for Home Ice in PlayoffsThe Bruins outshot Buffalo 36-29. They dominated the draws, winning 45 of 66 faceoffs for a commanding 68 percent success rate. They outhit the Sabres 20-18, and they certainly outfought them the many times the gloves hit the ice.

Yet at the end of the night, the Bruins stood on the wrong side of a season-worst 6-0 defeat.

The statsheet makes about as much sense as…well, about as much sense as Boston's continued struggles against the teams at the bottom of the standings this season.

The Bruins have lost just 17 of their first 52 games in regulation this season, but 12 of those losses have come against teams currently out of playoff position. And none of those defeats was as bad as Wednesday's pitiful showing in Buffalo against a Sabres squad that came into the night in 14th place in the East.

Despite a few categories on the statsheet indicating an advantage for the Bruins, the reality was Buffalo dominated this contest. The Bruins were careless with the puck, played undisciplined hockey and let a winnable game get completely away from them.

"It's been a while since we had a loss like this. Maybe it's [for] the best," forward Milan Lucic told reporters. "Maybe it's a wake-up call and shows that we need to be much better and we can't take anyone lightly no matter who they are."

Lucic was at the center of the game's turning point. He appeared to pull the Bruins into a 1-1 tie with 11:40 left in the opening period. But the goal was waved off when Rich Peverley was ruled to have interfered with Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. It was considered incidental contact, so no penalty was called. But the goal was taken away, and with it went the Bruins' focus.

They never recovered from that setback. Buffalo added another goal later in the first, then chased starter Tuukka Rask with a soft goal early in the second. Tim Thomas came on and surrendered three more as the rout escalated out of control.

The Bruins' inability to overcome the adversity of that questionable call is disconcerting. With the style they play, the Bruins know they won't get the benefit of the doubt on most nights. So they can't afford to let a questionable decision by the officials get in their heads like they did on Wednesday.

"The type of game that we play, we understand that the tolerance against us is very high and the tolerance for us is very low," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We're willing to live with that. We're going to live with that. That's what happens when you have a so-called reputation. We've just got to fight through those kind of things and not let that frustrate ourselves as far as our game is concerned. And just play the way we know we can."

They also have to do that regardless of the opponent. The fact that they are 16-5-2 against teams currently occupying postseason spots is an encouraging sign for their prospects of making another long playoff run when they'll be facing quality opposition every night.

But the Bruins can't forget that they also won a pair of Game 7s on Garden ice, along with a crucial Game 6 to force Game 7 back in Vancouver in the Final last year on the way to the Cup. If they want the home-ice advantage for those critical games again this spring, they can't afford to keep letting points against the bottom-dwelling teams slip away.

Fortunately, they shouldn't be able to look past the next couple of opponents, as a red-hot Nashville team that's a league-best 8-2-0 in its last 10 games visits the Garden on Saturday, followed by the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers on Tuesday.

Those are games the Bruins should have no problem getting up for. But they can't forget that there are an equal number of points up for grabs in the following two games against struggling Montreal and Winnipeg. The Bruins need to find some consistency in their game, putting together their best effort regardless of the opponent as they head down the home stretch of the season.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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