The middle of December is a little late to be taking solace in moral victories, so the Bruins won't find much to dull the pain of the missed opportunity this brief road trip ended up being for the club.
Boston had a chance to take over first place in the Northeast Division. Instead, they dropped back-to-back games against division rivals in Buffalo and Montreal.
Thursday's showdown at the Bell Centre was especially frustrating, as they still could have tied Montreal for first with a win despite the previous night's setback against the Sabres. But even with such high stakes, the Bruins came out inexcusably flat.
The Canadiens took full advantage, with Mike Cammalleri converting a penalty shot after a questionable call just 1:04 into the opening period, then Maxim Lapierre taking advantage of some poor defensive zone coverage in front to bang in a rebound at 6:24.
The Bruins put together a strong final 40 minutes to make things interesting, but never completely dug out of that early hole in falling 4-3 for their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"I think it was a real tough start for us, especially when you get that first goal on a penalty shot," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We dug ourselves a hole there and [Montreal] took the 2-0 lead. Everything seemed to go off our players tonight and into our net, so we didn't have a lot of luck around our net area. And at the same time I think we battled hard in the second and third periods. We had to battle from behind the whole game and we tried and unfortunately came up short."
And while it won't provide much comfort or mean anything in the standings, there were some positive signs for the Bruins over those final two periods.
The most important might have been the play of Marc Savard, who scored his first goal and had his first multi-point game of the season in his seventh game since returning from post-concussion syndrome. Savard tipped home an Andrew Ference shot to pull Boston within a goal at 3-2 in the second period. He then picked up an assist on Milan Lucic's power-play goal when the winger tipped in a Patrice Bergeron shot to make it a one-goal game again at 4-3 with 4:50 left in the third.
"It's a work in progress," said Savard. "I'm still not satisfied. I still made some gaffes a couple times, but it's coming. I've just got to stay positive here. I'm starting to feel fresher every game, and hopefully I can keep contributing, but we've got to get some wins here before Christmas."
Savard played a season-high 16:40 with three shots to go along with his two points.
"He played probably one of his better games since he's come back," said Julien. "So that's a good sign for us."
It was also a good sign how Savard's linemate, rookie Tyler Seguin, responded in his first game back after being a healthy scratch in Buffalo. Seguin assisted on Savard's goal and was a plus-2 in 10:42 with two shots and a hit.
Blake Wheeler also scored his seventh goal for his first point since Dec. 2, getting Boston on the board late in the first. Lucic scored his 16th goal, only one off his career high in just the 30th game of the season, to go along with five shots and seven hits, and Bergeron added two assists after managing just two points in his previous 11 games.
David Krejci even contributed in an unexpected way, as he dropped his gloves and bloodied Cammalleri in both players' first NHL fight, while Tim Thomas finished with 37 saves, including some stellar stops early to prevent the game from becoming a total rout.
But Thomas couldn't stop Cammalleri's series of moves on the penalty shot after Zdeno Chara was called for hooking the speedy forward on a breakaway, and the Bruins never fully recovered from that early setback.
"It's debatable whether one guy got his stick in his hands a little bit," said Thomas. "It looked to me like it was stick-on-stick contact — certainly not a penalty shot. It changed the whole momentum, the whole outlook of the game. Totally, from beginning to end.
"This team doesn't quit," added Thomas. "But coming back from a hole is always difficult to do. We were close, but not close enough."
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