BOSTON (CBS) – A road trip to Florida in March typically signals it’s time for spring break.
For the Bruins, an upcoming two-game stint among the beaches and orange blossoms isn’t an opportunity to take a break but to break out of a malaise and break away from hard-charging Ottawa at the top of the Northeast Division.
The Bruins emerged from a weekend back-to-back with zero standings points for the second straight week Sunday after they dropped a 5-2 decision in Pittsburgh. Now they head to Tampa Tuesday and Sunrise, Fla., Thursday with just a two-point lead on the Senators for the division lead and the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed that seemingly will come along with that crown. The games in hand that once totaled four or five over the last couple months are now down to just two, and will be reduced to one after the Lightning game Tuesday.
If the a recent spate of injuries was the only cause for concern after Boston dropped its fourth game in its last six, you’d sit back and expect the Bruins to dominate the upcoming two-game jaunt over two weaker opponents record-wise. While Andrew Ference returned to Boston’s lineup Sunday, over the course of the loss Adam McQuaid, Patrice Bergeron and Max Sauve all exited. This after Benoit Pouliot was scratched again and joined Daniel Paille and long-time injured players Rich Peverley, Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask on the sidelines.
But the injuries are just a mask over the underachieving Bruins’ struggles. After all, the lineup was whole when Boston fell behind the Penguins 2-0 in the first 7:12 of the game and went to the first intermission down 3-0. They fielded the same lineup, minus Pouliot, that won two in a row last week against Washington Saturday, and still fell into a 2-0 hole en route to a loss.
It might seem obvious that the Bruins’ recent slump can easily be solved by better starts. They’ve allowed the first goal in five straight, including the first two goals three times, and won only twice in that span.
However, prior to the last five games, the Bruins’ biggest problem was bearing down during second periods and sustaining their solid first-period play. What’s afflicted the Bruins for much of the last two months hasn’t changed, it’s just moved to a different portion of the game.
Whether it’s Joe Corvo losing a race to a dump-in or a battle along the wall, Tyler Seguin or Milan Lucic moving slow to back check or the skaters on the power play going through the motions and robotically passing the puck rather than looking to actually make a productive play, the Bruins’ attention to detail fades in and out.
In January, the Bruins were able to flip the switch and overcome their inconsistency. Now, other teams are pouncing and not taking their feet off the gas.
The Panthers are in the bottom third of the league in goals scored and bottom half in goals against. It’s a wonder they lead the Southeast Division. The Lightning are 10th in scoring but last in goals against. This is a perfect time for the Bruins, regardless of how many regulars are active, to get on the ice and play the way they’re supposed to. Finish their checks early to get the blood flowing, clear the front of the net to make life a little easier for Tim Thomas and bear down on their scoring chances. They have to stop working the puck around on the power play like a robot quintet and look to make a play or two. Once he has the necessary help, Thomas has to reward his teammates by pulling out a couple of those old “battle-fly” saves that made him Boston’s biggest sports hero.
The state of Florida’s typically a source of pleasure for visitors. But unlike retirees and college students, the Bruins are going to have to work their tails off to squeeze the measure of joy they want out of the Sunshine State.