BOSTON — The Bruins’ season-long losing streak reached five games Thursday night as Boston dropped a 4-1 decision to the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.
With the loss, the Bruins now trail the first-place Panthers by five points in the Atlantic Division standings with seven games remaining on their regular-season schedule. And with the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers also winning Thursday, Boston is a mere one point away from being out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture entirely.
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
The play of the game came with just under 12 minutes remaining in the third period.
The Bruins trailed 2-1 at the time, and Patrice Bergeron fired a tough angle shot on Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. Luongo initially appeared to make the save, but the play was reviewed, and replays showed the call was far closer than it seemed in real time.
In fact, replays appeared to show the puck crossing the goal line between Luongo’s right leg pad and the post.
Replay officials viewed the play differently, however, determining there was no conclusive evidence that the puck had fully crossed the line. Bruins coach Claude Julien was livid, as were the fans in attendance, a small number of whom threw bottles and cans onto the ice.
It was the second potential goal in as many games that Bergeron’s line had disallowed thanks to an inconclusive review.
Less than three minutes later, Jussi Jokinen scored to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish. The Bruins failed to light the lamp the rest of the way, and Jonathan Huberdeau closed out the scoring with an empty-netter.
The Bruins began the night by honoring Julien, who earlier this month surpassed Art Ross to become the winningest head coach in franchise history.
The team presented Julien with a watch and his family with a trip to Disney World, and the tribute concluded with a video montage of several prominent sports figures offering their congratulations to the B’s bench boss.
Included in the montage were five fellow NHL coaches, Boston mayor Marty Walsh, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Belichick received by far the loudest ovation from the Garden crowd.
Before his pregame ceremony, Julien apparently was hard at work crafting a new lineup. Boston trotted out three retooled lines, with only the top trio of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Lee Stempniak remaining intact.
SHAKY START FOR LUONGO
Luongo struggled mightily in his first three starts against the Bruins this season (3.97 goals against average, .871 save percentage), and his poor rebound control in the first period Thursday almost allowed the B’s to snag an early lead.
Matt Beleskey ripped a shot on net that bounced off Luongo’s chest and landed in the crease behind him, forcing former Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer to swoop in and save the day. Officials reviewed the play but determined Kampfer successfully prevented the puck from crossing the goal line.
Luongo settled down, though, keeping the game scoreless as the Bruins outshot the Panthers 15-5 in the opening frame.
ON THE BOARD
The Bruins finally solved Luongo on their 20th shot of the contest. Ryan Spooner did the honors, scoring his first goal since March 3 — and first at even strength since Feb. 4 — off assists from linemates Frank Vatrano and Loui Eriksson.
The primary assist gave Vatrano, who scored a goal in Wednesday’s loss to the New York Rangers after being recalled from Providence a day earlier, a point in consecutive games for the first time in his NHL career.
Just six minutes after Spooner’s goal, it was the Panthers’ turn. Former Bruins winger Reilly Smith, who was traded to Florida last summer for Jimmy Hayes, fired a shot between the legs of defenseman Adam McQuaid and punched in a rebound moments later to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Smith has 24 goals in 74 games with the Panthers. He had 33 in 163 games over his two seasons in Boston.
Florida then jumped ahead for the first time when Vincent Trochek picked off an errant pass during a Bruins power play and sniped a shorthanded goal past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask with less than a minute remaining in the second. Luongo capped the frame with a ridiculous save on Hayes, and the Panthers took a 2-1 lead into the final period.
DOWN A D-MAN
The Bruins were forced to play the third period with just five defensemen after John-Michael Liles went down awkwardly in a collision with Garrett Wilson in the second. Liles, who’s played in every game since the Bruins acquired him at the trade deadline, limped down the tunnel and did not return with what the team called a lower body injury.
The Bruins will head out on their final road trip of the season, the opener of which is set for Saturday night against the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs. From there, the Bruins will travel to New Jersey on Tuesday and St. Louis next Friday before concluding the trip next Sunday with a visit to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr