Even worse, they just ran into the team that may have stolen their identity and used it against them.
The New York Rangers look an awful lot like the Bruins team that won the Cup last spring and ran roughshod over the rest of the league from the start of November through the middle of January. The physical play, stout work ethic, scoring depth and outstanding goaltending are the Bruinsâ trademarks when theyâre on their game, and those are exactly the things that fueled New Yorkâs 3-0 win Tuesday night.
And theyâre exactly what have been missing from the Bruins for most of the past month as the Bruins have gone just 6-7-1 over the last 14 games.
"Weâre a checking team that scores," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Thatâs our identity. Weâre a checking team that scores. Right now weâre not checking, and weâre not scoring. Weâve got to get back to checking, and checking is playing a lot harder, winning battles and being really hard to score against. When you do that, then teams get frustrated like we did tonight, make a few mistakes and it ends up in our net. So they beat us at our own game."
The Bruins were officially credited with a 32-31 edge in hits on Tuesday. They also outshot the Rangers 42-20, attempting 79 shots in all to just 31 for the Rangers, who did have a 22-7 edge in blocked shots. And that constant threat of getting in the shooting lanes contributed to the Bruins missing the net on another 15 shots. But the statistical advantages produced little tangible benefit for the Bruins, as the Rangers held the decided edge in the intangible categories of effort and commitment.
"We certainly could have done more," Julien said. "You look at our team now and itâs certainly not the team that weâre used to seeing, identity-wise and everything else. You can shoot 42 shots on net and it may look good on paper versus 20, but the mistakes, the identity, the battles â¦ itâs certainly not good enough for the Boston Bruins."
The scary thing is it wasnât good enough for the Rangers either. Despite the win, which pushed New Yorkâs lead over the Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference to nine points, Rangers coach John Tortorella wasnât particularly pleased with the effort.
"The discipline was fine," Tortorella said. "I just donât think we were totally on our game. Thatâs a good sign for a hockey club, and when youâre trying to gather points here, you donât play your best, you play in spurts, but you still find a way to win."
Itâs not a good sign for the Bruins though, who conceded that the Rangers were the best team they have faced this season.
"In our conference for sure," Julien said. "No doubt right now theyâre playing the best. They play hard. Theyâre playing a lot like we did last year when we were playing well. They grind you down and they donât give you much, and whenever you give them an opportunity they pounce on it. Right now thatâs kind of the identity weâre looking for again."
An equally disconcerting sign is that not all of the Bruins, including some of the leadership in the locker room, appeared to have the same assessment of the clubâs waning effort.
"I donât think we were outworked," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "I thought we were battling really hard. You know, on the second goal it was double deflection off his stick, my pants, and go in. So, thatâs a bounce that you canât prevent; itâs just an unlucky bounce. I thought that we had some really good chances. [Henrik] Lundqvist made some really great saves."
Rangers goalie Lundqvist did put together a strong effort for the shutout, but the Bruins also didnât test him nearly enough despite the lofty shot totals.
"We had close to 40 shots and we donât get one [goal]? I donât know," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "Heâs obviously one of the best goalies in the league, but we should be able to get a couple on him."
The Bruins have struggled to score on a lot of goalies lately. After being shut out just twice in their first 48 games, theyâve now been blanked three times in the last six.
They now head out on a season-high six-game road trip beginning Wednesday in Montreal, and theyâll have to hope they find their old game, and old identity, somewhere out there on the road.
"When you lose or donât win as often as you should, it weighs on you," Julien said. "Somehow we have to use this road trip here to turn things around. Thereâs no easy way out. Iâve never heard of an easy way out. Teams have had to battle their way out so thatâs what weâre going to have to do."