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BOSTON (CBS) – Just when you thought the Bruins’ first two-game winning streak in two months would set them on a clear sail to the playoffs, along comes the club’s first three-game losing streak since October.
Worse, after they dropped a 6-1 decision in Tampa Tuesday night, the Bruins have been outscored, 15-6, in those three games. How’s that for the team that boasts the best goaltending tandem in the league and a stifling defense corps in front of those netminders?
Of course, the Tuukka Rask injury has gummed up the works, in addition to various other players coming and going from the lineup due to ailments. But if there’s no crying in baseball, there’s definitely no room for excuses in hockey – especially when your management brags about great organizational depth almost non-stop.
If the Bruins, who are 3-5-0 in March, are going to get out of their current malaise, the first thing they’re going to have to do is make sure they don’t begin to lean on those injuries as a crutch to make them feel better about their struggles. Past Claude Julien-coached teams have done a great job of turning the adversity that comes with injuries into success. That’s why players like Glen Metropolit, Miro Satan and Rich Peverley – players of whom little was expected but much was produced for Bruins – left fond memories or, in Peverley’s case, earned a big-money contract extension.
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This current batch of Bruins tends to say most of the right things about working through the injuries and stepping up. But other than Jordan Caron, who’s doing the stepping? The Bruins’ best players seem to be skating in quick sand, and no role player has done anything to differentiate himself from the guys playing house league in New Bedford.
Remember when Chris Kelly was a revelation? His versatility and leadership are still vital to the Bruins, but he’s registered one point in his last 11 games. Brian Rolston is proving the Islanders were right to sit him out as much as they did. Even Shawn Thornton, typically blame-less whenever the Bruins are in a rut, lost his cool and took a dumb penalty against Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s early-game eruption Tuesday.
And then there’s Tim Thomas. With the exception of his “injured” season of 2009-10, the Bruins have been able to count on him to clean up their mistakes nine times out of 10. That number has been reduced to almost zero. Thomas’ workload has increase and will obviously continue to pile on now that the Bruins are in a fight for the Northeast Division and even a playoff spot. He says he’s in better shape now than even three or four years ago. Well then, why isn’t he playing like it?
When they were just playing .500 hockey, you could excuse the Bruins for just being in cruise control until the playoffs. Now they’re playing sub-.500 hockey and the playoffs have for all intents and purposes started.
Regardless of who’s in uniform for the Bruins starting Thursday, it’s time to start showing off that depth and determination that’s supposedly in high supply. Here are a couple of things we have to see from the Bruins when they try to snap their losing streak against the Panthers:
*Some clean but hard-hitting. Right from the drop of the puck, the Bruins have to be physical. They’ve been manhandled the last several games. That means Milan Lucic, Johnny Boychuk, and anyone with an ounce of toughness has to put the body to someone in a Florida sweater. I mean, that’s been the Bruins’ calling card for 80-something years. No reason to change now.
*Tyler Seguin has to go back on Patrice Bergeron’s line and someone else – maybe Brad Marchand – has to go on David Krejci’s right wing. I was enthusiastically in favor of Seguin’s shift to the first line, and it sparked the Bruins’ offense off the bat, but that line is way too weak defensively now. Lucic, Krejci and Seguin are a combined minus-10 in the last seven games. It’s time to rebalance the lines.
*Get Mike Mottau in for Greg Zanon. No, I’m not presenting Mottau as some sort of savior. But at least he’s shown a knack for limiting mistakes and making plays. Zanon looks like a headless chicken out there. If he needs more time to adjust to the new system, let him do it during practice time rather than costly game time.
*Clone Caron. This one’s probably the most difficult of Boston’s tasks, but this guy keeps getting better and better. Even in the blowout loss to Tampa, he threw a big hit on the forecheck and then went to the net for a tip-in for Boston’s lone goal. Right now, he and Bergeron look like the only ones in the Bruins’ lineup that are alive. They might not be able to scientifically accomplish this, so the other Bruins players are just going to have to try to duplicate Caron’s heart with an increase in their own aggression.