BOSTON (CBS) — If you only saw the final score — a 4-1 Bruins victory over the Panthers — you might be inclined to think what took place on Thursday night at the TD Garden was the third-best team in the Eastern Conference thoroughly dispatching the conference’s last-place team.
Yet anyone who watched the events unfold knows it was anything but a blowout. More importantly, nobody wearing a black sweater felt all that good about the win.
“We’re not necessarily playing our best hockey right now,” said Patrice Bergeron, the game’s second star who scored two goals but spoke in front of his locker as if he’d just lost a 5-0 laugher. “Two points, I guess we’ll take it, but we gotta be much better.”
The issues for the Bruins have been obvious this season. After going 32-0-0 last year when leading after two periods, they entered Thursday night’s game with a 7-3-1 mark in the same situation. While they opened up a 2-0 lead in the first, they were outworked, outshot, out-hit and out-everything in the second period.
Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted it was a bit painful for him to watch the events of the second period unfold before his eyes.
“Try being behind the bench watching the second period like that,” Julien told a reporter when asked about the struggles of the second 20 minutes. “It no doubt wasn’t a pretty period, and certainly there are times when you have to bite your bottom lip and let things happen. Between the second and third, all [the players] had to do was talk to each other and I think our guys are smart enough to know that they had to go back out there and be better.”
While the Bruins were able to get a goal from Shawn Thornton and later an empty-netter from Bergeron, there wasn’t much of a feeling of triumph in the locker room.
“We picked it up a little bit,” Julien said, “but there’s still lots more we can do as a team to play better than we did tonight.”
The Bruins are clearly hard on themselves when they don’t play as well as they feel they should, but it’s not as if they don’t have a fair number of reasonable excuses. Thursday’s game was the team’s eighth in 13 nights, part of a stretch of more than a month in which the team does not have any two-game breaks between games. It was evident on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh that the players’ legs ran out of gas midway through the second, and while some lingering fatigue appeared apparent again on Thursday, the players know the schedule is not going to change and they can’t lean back on excuses.
“We’re all going through it – the whole league is,” Bergeron said. “I think that’s the bottom line. You can’t even use it. It’s about worrying about that next game and not looking at the schedule and making sure you find your legs. There’s no ifs and buts; it’s about finding ways.”
“Those excuses,” Julien added, “we can make them all day long, but we don’t live on those kinds of things. We take responsibility for our own actions and we should’ve been better tonight. We wanted to be better but we weren’t.”
By the end of the unsatisfying night for the Bruins, they sat at 18-4-3 on the season, one point behind Montreal and Pittsburgh for the top spot in the East, despite three games in hand on the Penguins and two on the Canadiens. They couldn’t ask to be in a much better position.
But in the shortened season, when each and every night almost feels like a playoff game, the Bruins aren’t letting the final score determine how they feel about their team.
“I don’t think we’re any different than any other team right now. We want to be different,” Julien said. “Right now, we’re average at best. We’re still finding ways to win, so there’s a lot to be happy about with your team, when you can win games like that when you don’t feel you played well. Through the course of a season, that’s the sign of a good hockey club, and that’s what we feel we are.
“It’s not about getting down on ourselves,” Julien added. “We know we can play better, and we’re going to work on playing better.”