Boston fell to the Thrashers 3-2 after Atlanta scored the only two goals in a shootout. The Bruins still earn a point for carrying the game beyond regulation, giving them five of a possible six points three games into their current five-game road trip.
“You’ve got to stay positive,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “The way we played, got five out of six [points], there’s a lot to be positive about. We’re probably disappointed because I thought we should have had two [points] instead of one tonight, but we’ve got to bounce back, go to Buffalo and start all over again.”
The Bruins had plenty of chances to secure the second point in this one. After a bit of a slow start marked by a lack of discipline in taking several weak penalties, the Bruins came on strong late in the first period, then dominated much of the second and third.
Patrice Bergeron put Boston on the board and answered an early Atlanta power-play goal with a great individual effort, breaking in down the middle and flipping in a backhander at the left post to get the Bruins even before the end of the opening period.
Blake Wheeler then continued the momentum as he scored 55 seconds into the second period. The Bruins kept pressuring after that, outshooting Atlanta 44-32, including an 18-7 advantage in the third.
But the Thrashers scored the only goals the rest of the way, with Tobias Enstrom tying it with his second power-play goal of the night and Tim Stapleton and Bryan Little scoring in the shootout.
“We played well enough to win and should have won that hockey game,” Julien said. “I didn’t feel like it should have even gone into overtime, but unfortunately we didn’t bury the chances we had. We had some quality chances. The other goaltender played well, but at the same time you have to be able to bury those. We weren’t able to do that and unfortunately on a lot of occasions those come back to bite you and it did tonight.”
The Bruins won’t take too much comfort from the final result, but they can take solace in the effort. It wasn’t quite the complete 60-minute performance they’ve been searching for as they did come out a bit tentative early and took far too many penalties with six minors giving Atlanta five power plays. But even with Greg Campbell out with flu-like symptoms and two lines reshuffled, the Bruins did get a strong outing from all four forward lines. That was a marked improvement for the team, which even in its recent wins had largely been carried by the third and fourth lines alone.
“It all started with a strong forecheck,” Milan Lucic said. “We did a great job of getting in there and our second guy was right in there to back him up and dig the pucks out. We did a great job using all five guys on the ice. It’s just one of those games where you play well as a team, but you just don’t get the result that you want.”
Lucic certainly responded after his line struggled enough to be benched much of the third period of Tuesday’s win in Tampa Bay. He wasn’t challenged to drop the gloves as many expected after his role in last week’s brawl with the Thrashers, but Lucic still set a physical tone as led the Bruins with four hits and also had four shots.
Linemates Marc Savard and Nathan Horton showed some signs of improvement as well, but their performances were more of a mixed bag. Savard had four shots and created some offensive chances, and Horton also got himself into position for a few scoring opportunities, though only one of the five shots he attempted went on net. But they each also took bad penalties that led to Atlanta’s two goals, and Horton has now gone eight games without a goal, while Savard has just 1-3-4 totals in 13 games since returning from post-concussion syndrome.
Still, the Bruins preferred to focus on the positives from the night.
“I think that’s the main part where you can’t get discouraged,” Lucic said. “We’ve got to just focus on that and what we have to take out of this game is the way we forechecked and just try to finish this road trip off right.”
The Bruins did increase their lead in the Northeast Division with the point they picked up, as Montreal lost 4-1 to Tampa Bay. The Bruins now have a three-point lead with two games in hand on the Canadiens, and they return to divisional play to close out this road trip with stops in Buffalo on New Year’s Day and Toronto on Monday.
“There’s lots of positives,” Bergeron said. “Even tonight, I thought we had a lot of chances. We didn’t make the most of it, but at the same time we battled hard, we created those chances by being hard on the forecheck and causing some turnovers and being hard on their defensemen. That was creating some offense. So that’s a lot of positives. We have to keep our heads up. Five out of six points is pretty good, but we wanted that extra point.”