The Bruins followed that loss by continuing the plummet after traveling across the Sunshine State, dropping a 6-2 decision to the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. on Thursday.
The Bruins have now lost four straight games for the first time in over two years. Their last losing streak of this duration was part of a 10-game winless stretch in January and February of 2010 that included five consecutive regulation losses.
Boston can't afford to match that now. This skid has eliminated any margin for error going forward. The Bruins' lead in the Northeast Division is down to one point, and they could be in seventh place in the Eastern Conference by the time they next step foot on the ice to host Philadelphia in a St. Patrick's Day matinee on Saturday. The Senators host Montreal Friday night, and an Ottawa win will push the Sens past Boston into the division lead and the second seed in the conference.
And the Bruins have no one to blame for their continued struggles but themselves.
"It was a self-inflicted loss for us tonight," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "From deflections to really poor responsibilities in our own end, we gave them a lot of opportunities. Our forecheck was better, we were able to turn pucks over, but definitely our defensive game really struggled tonight."
Things started out OK for the Bruins, a stark contrast to the first two games of the road trip where they were outscored a combined 7-0 in the first period. The Panthers managed just one goal in the opening frame, and that came on the power play after a questionable cross-checking call on Shawn Thornton.
"I thought we started off pretty decently in the first period, and then, again, when you don't get scored on you can come out of there 0-0 and at least you're heading in the right direction," Julien said. "I thought a really weak call on Thornton and they end up scoring that goal, so a little bit of déjà vu there for a lot of guys."
The Bruins still could have built off that effort in the first. Instead, Florida came out flying and doubled the lead 38 seconds into the second period. Boston finally got on the board on a Joe Corvo tally, but rather than gain momentum, the club self-destructed.
Florida answered less than two minutes later when Stephen Weiss was left all alone in front for a rebound after a Bruins turnover on an errant Corvo breakout pass gave the Panthers entry into the zone to begin the play.
John Madden added another goal later in the second when he stole the puck from Gregory Campbell trying to come out of the defensive zone, then went to the front of the net and eventually popped the puck up and over Tim Thomas at the right post.
In the third, the Bruins should have been the aggressors, playing desperate hockey trying to avoid falling to their fourth straight loss. Instead, Florida carried the play. The Bruins were outshot 12-9, outhit 10-4 and outscored 2-1 in the final frame. They even managed to win just 9 of 23 faceoffs in the third.
The two goals Florida added came off more mistakes. Chris Kelly attempted to go around behind the Bruins net with the puck, only to hit Adam McQuaid and have it bounce right to Tomas Kopecky at the right post for an easy tap-in, while Wojtek Wolski finished an odd-man break into a wide-open net as Thomas looked skyward for answers.
"We've done a good job of sticking together, keeping what positive we can," Thomas said. "But that's not working. I don't know what to do. We've got to do something to change it, I know that."
Thomas didn't have a lot of help in front of him, but he also didn't do much to keep the Bruins in the game as he allowed six goals on just 29 shots. That's become a familiar pattern of late. Since Tuukka Rask went down with a groin injury, Thomas is now 2-5-0 with a 4.26 GAA and an .830 save percentage.
The Bruins need Thomas to be much better than that, but they also need everyone in front of him to improve their game.
"We need everybody," Julien said. "We need some good goaltending. We need some good defensive zone coverage and less breakdowns. All that is about the team. We didn't win last year because of one person. We won because of the team and right now we're struggling because the team is struggling and we've got to work our way out of that as a group."
The Bruins do have last year's success to draw upon, and they remain confident that they can pull out of this spiral.
"We have a great group of guys," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "We have the tools. We have the talent. We are capable of doing great things. We've proven that. We've done it before. It's just right now we can't find a way to be effective, offensively or defensively. It's tough to really describe it."
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