Boston came into Tuesday with a chance to extend their lead over Ottawa in the Northeast Division to five points with four games in hand. But the Bruins failed to muster a single goal, and now their lead is down to a single point after a 1-0 loss at the Garden.
"That’s a hard two points to let slip away after we beat them last game," Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo said. "I just feel like you need to get something out of this game, a point at least, and it’s very disappointing."
The Bruins (37-21-3, 77 points) do still have those four games in hand, so they still have control of the division, but it has definitely become a race again after losing to the Senators (34-23-8, 76 points) for the first time in five games between the clubs this season.
"It’s a point,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of his club’s now slim lead. "We do have four games in hand. I’m not saying we’re getting comfortable here, but that’s the luxury that we have. We do have four games in hand and at this time of year, they got 17 games left I think and we got 21, so it’s up to us to just do the job. This is an opportunity for us to have those games in hand – take advantage of it. I don’t think I’m really worried about [Ottawa], more than, let’s worry about ourselves and just do the job and we’ll be fine."
The Bruins didn’t do the job for the first two periods on Tuesday. Returning from a six-game road trip, they came out sluggish and were outshot 31-15 in the first 40 minutes. Ottawa struck for the game’s only goal when Erik Karlsson fired through a screen in front for a power-play tally at 14:44 of the first.
"Those first two periods were really painful to watch," Julien said. "Our guys just didn’t have any legs. Our game was very, very slow, even faceoffs, we just struggled in all areas. And then all of a sudden we redeemed ourselves on faceoffs, our game picked up in the third, found our legs, so hopefully that’s a good sign for next game. But certainly this was a game we would have liked to have won. We knew the importance of these two points, or what they call four-point games. We just couldn’t muster up enough to get that goal."
The Bruins finally found their legs in the third, taking advantage of three Ottawa penalties to finally put some pressure on Senators rookie goalie Robin Lehner. The Bruins had a 17-7 edge in shots in the final frame, but Lehner turned aside all 32 shots he faced overall for his first NHL shutout.
"Our legs were tired, our legs were heavy," Corvo said. "We didn’t look like we had any jump. It’s just an excuse obviously, like I said before our power play needs to score a goal."
The Bruins finished 0 for 4 on the man advantage, as they finished a frustrating month of February with a 5-7-1 record. They were shut out five times in those 13 games, and still have not won back-to-back games since Jan. 10 and 12, going 9-10-2 in that 21-game span.
Tuesday’s loss was particularly disappointing because of both the stakes involved in the division race and for the fact that Boston had appeared to be coming out of its recent lackluster play. They had earned points in three straight games, with an impressive 4-3 victory in St. Louis last Wednesday, a 2-1 shootout loss in Buffalo Friday and a 5-3 win in Ottawa over these same Senators on Saturday.
"That last game we scored five goals, so it’s one of those games that, you know, yeah we could have created more chances," Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. "I think we had some nice chances that we’ve got to find a way to finish. Maybe have some more traffic. It was a good game, [Lehner] made some nice saves, but still, we’ve got to be better."
The Bruins have shown how good they can be when they are playing up to their capabilities. That’s something defenseman Mike Mottau has seen from the opposing side, and it was noticeable that the Bruins were off their game in his Boston debut after being acquired from the Islanders on Monday
"I think as a group they come at you in waves, a lot of depth up front and everybody’s on the same page systematically," Mottau said of what the Bruins are like to play against at their most effective. "There’s a lot of support all over the ice and as a D man, coming into this situation, it’s pretty seamless. … Playing against [the Bruins], it’s difficult when they’re going like that and tonight, [it was] just a little out of sync."
The Senators, meanwhile, were on their game enough to steal two points on the road. More importantly, the young Ottawa squad proved it can compete with the reigning Cup champs, and they won’t be going away so easily in this division race.
"We knew that this was going to be a tough game," Karlsson said. "This is one of the teams that you’re going to have to really play good against to win. In a playoff series, it’s going to be even harder to beat them and I think we really wanted to show that we can compete with them today."
The Senators showed they can do that, at least when the Bruins aren’t on their game. And now the Bruins should know they can’t afford to continue to allow such lapses.