They were facing a struggling team in San Jose coming off back-to-back losses with goalie Antti Niemi giving up four goals in each and getting pulled from one.
Boston, meanwhile, finally appeared to be rounding back to form with two straight wins of its own, and its offense should have had plenty of confidence after an 8-0 blowout of Toronto.
But the Bruins couldn’t build off that success when they opened a key three-game West Coast road trip in San Jose. They came out sluggish and sloppy, surrendering an early goal after a bad turnover and never recovered, falling 2-1 to the Sharks.
“There’s no doubt, they dictated the pace right from the get-go,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We never caught up to the pace. At the end, it was a little too late for use to get ourselves back in the game.”
The Bruins mustered a season-low 17 shots on goal against a team that had given up 40-plus in each of its last two contests. Boston was outshot 8-5 in first, 12-4 in the second and even desperate to mount a rally in the third they managed only an 8-7 edge. The Sharks blocked as many shots (17) as Boston managed to put on net, with the Bruins also missing on another 12 shot attempts.
“The first half of the game we did not play to our potential,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “Even still, it was a close game and then we made it a one-goal game. To win games, you can’t be relying on 40 or 30 minute efforts. You need a 60-minute effort. If we were to play like we did the second half of the game [for the entire game], I believe it probably would be a different story.”
Chara had Boston’s lone goal, banking in a shot off Niemi from below the goal line to the left of the cage late in the third period to pull the Bruins within one. But Boston never seriously threatened to pull even in the closing minutes, even with Tim Thomas pulled in the final minute.
Thomas was the reason the Bruins had any chance at all, as he stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced. He continues to show signs of returning to form after struggling much of the last few months, but outside of Thomas and Chara (goal, 8 hits, 3 shots, 1 blocked shot in 27:23), not enough of the Bruins’ key players brought the kind of effort the club needed in this one.
“We had a lot of guys that looked sluggish tonight,” Julien said. “We didn’t have the same speed. And a lot of those guys were guys that we really rely on a lot. You’re not going to win hockey games without having some of your key players playing their best. This is a game that we know that the next one won’t be any easier.”
The next one is Saturday in Los Angeles against the Kings. While San Jose remains outside the playoff picture in 10th place in the West even after Thursday’s win, the Kings took over the Pacific Division lead and the third seed in the conference after a 1-0 shootout win over a St. Louis club that leads the NHL with 101 points.
The Bruins remain three points up on Ottawa for first place in the Northeast Division and two points ahead of Southeast Division leader Florida for the second seed. But Boston squandered one of its games in hand on the senators with Thursday’s loss, and now has just one game in hand on their division rival.
Holding on to that division lead and getting home ice for as long as possible in the playoffs is more vital than ever, as the Bruins have struggled mightily away from Boston of late. They are just 5-9-1 in their last 15 road games, losing four straight by a combined 19-6 score.
They’ll need to find a way to win some of these upcoming road games, starting Saturday in Los Angeles, unless they want to face the prospect of playing more games on enemy ice in the postseason.