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 Bruins’ trademarks when they’re on their game, and those are exactly the things that fueled New York’s 3-0 win Tuesday night.
And they’re 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.
"We’re a checking team that scores," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That’s our identity. We’re a checking team that scores. Right now we’re not checking, and we’re not scoring. We’ve 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 it’s certainly not the team that we’re 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 … it’s certainly not good enough for the Boston Bruins."
The scary thing is it wasn’t good enough for the Rangers either. Despite the win, which pushed New York’s lead over the Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference to nine points, Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn’t particularly pleased with the effort.
"The discipline was fine," Tortorella said. "I just don’t think we were totally on our game. That’s a good sign for a hockey club, and when you’re trying to gather points here, you don’t play your best, you play in spurts, but you still find a way to win."
It’s 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 they’re playing the best. They play hard. They’re playing a lot like we did last year when we were playing well. They grind you down and they don’t give you much, and whenever you give them an opportunity they pounce on it. Right now that’s kind of the identity we’re 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 club’s waning effort.
"I don’t 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, that’s a bounce that you can’t prevent; it’s 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 didn’t test him nearly enough despite the lofty shot totals.
"We had close to 40 shots and we don’t get one [goal]? I don’t know," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "He’s 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, they’ve 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 they’ll have to hope they find their old game, and old identity, somewhere out there on the road.
"When you lose or don’t 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. There’s no easy way out. I’ve never heard of an easy way out. Teams have had to battle their way out so that’s what we’re going to have to do."