For most of the season, a quick trip out of town would solve just about any problems the Bruins were enduring. They were 22-8-4 on the road when they left Boston for their final multi-game trip of the season just over a week ago, looking to snap out of a three-game losing streak that came on the heels of a season-best seven-game winning streak.
That run had begun with a similar trip, with Boston ending another three-game skid by going 6-0-0 on that journey.
But there would be no turnaround on this trip. The Bruins limp back to Boston having managed just one win out of their four-game expedition. The ultimate indignity came on Saturday with a 5-2 loss to the Leafs wasn't even as close as the final score implied.
Daniel Paille improved the aesthetics on the scoreboard with a goal with just under 20 seconds remaining, but nothing could make the overall performance in Toronto look anything but ugly.
"The first 10 minutes, the way we came out, just didn't come out like a team that was ready to play and ready to compete," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "By the time we started competing some of the damage had been done."
There wasn't really much competing done over the final 50 minutes either. Adam McQuaid answered an early Toronto goal when he followed up his own shot 11:46 into the first, but Toronto got that back 40 seconds later, then scored two more in a 29-second span early in the second period.
That outburst drove Tim Thomas from the net, but the change did little. Tuukka Rask let in another goal while screened by Dennis Seidenberg and Thomas ended up coming back for the third to get some work in after Rask had started the previous two games.
"I thought I'd try to change the momentum a little bit," Julien said of the initial goalie change. "Obviously the fourth goal was a tough goal against Timmy, but the other ones, I mean he was screened, one went off a guy's helmet and the first goal our D gets beat one on one. I don't think it was really Timmy, but we wanted to change momentum. Then when it was 5-1 after two I think it was important to get Timmy back in there so he can find his game and fine-tune himself going forward here."
There's some serious fine-tuning needed throughout the Bruins roster right now. Boston has just one win in its last seven games, and needed to go to a shootout in Columbus on Tuesday to get that. The Bruins went 0-for-2 again on the power play on Saturday, leaving them 2-for-34 on the man-advantage in the last 13 games.
Those 13 games are how long Tomas Kaberle has been in the lineup since being acquired from the Leafs. Returning to Toronto did nothing to restore his game, as Kaberle was a minus-1 with just one shot in 20:08. That minus came on Toronto's fourth goal, when Maple Leafs tough guy Mike Brown blew past Kaberle and swopped in on Thomas for his third goal of the year.
Five different Leafs scored in this one, and none of them would be confused for elite snipers. The group, which also consisted of defensemen Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie, rookie Nazem Kadri and grinder Joey Crabb, had combined for eight goals between them this year coming into the game. But the Bruins made that quintet look like the late '70s Canadiens with Boston's defensive breakdowns and giveaways creating all the chances the Leafs needed.
Toronto still deserves some credit though. The Leafs, desperately trying to stay in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the East, took advantage of those opportunities, paying the price when necessary to bang in some ugly goals around the crease. That's an area Bruins forwards have become increasingly unfamiliar with in the midst of this recent swoon.
"The type of goals that we're giving up lately around our net front area, those loose pucks, we're just not getting to them," Julien said. "That was defensively. Offensively, we had some chances, but I don't think we had too many opportunities from guys being in front of the net and paying the price. I think we need to get our heads into it a bit and understand if we want to be ready for the playoffs we better start getting ready for it now and start playing a lot better."
The Bruins have just 11 games left in the regular season to get their game back together. Eight of those games will be at the Garden, where Boston is just 16-12-5. On Tuesday, they host a Devils squad that has been arguably the hottest team in the league over the last couple months after a brutal start, then face an emotional clash with the Canadiens on Thursday.
Montreal is suddenly looming menacingly in their rear-view mirror just three points behind the Bruins. Boston still has a game in hand on the Habs and that final head-to-head encounter, but the Bruins' lead in the Northeast Division is anything but safe now, and it will slip away completely if they turn in many more efforts like Saturday's showing in Toronto.