BOSTON (CBS) — It was a painfully familiar sight for Boston hockey fans on Tuesday night, as they watched the Bruins carry a lead into the third period and once again let it slip away in dramatic fashion.
After going 32-0-0 when leading after two periods last year, and under the defensive-based system of Claude Julien, it’s been startling to see the team blow a third-period lead for the fifth time this season.
Yet, the blown third-period lead is only the end result. The real issue with the Bruins is what happens prior to the blown third-period advantage. Or, more specifically, what doesn’t happen.
They can’t score.
Their only goal Tuesday night came after a bad bounce off the end boards put the puck on Brad Marchand’s tape, and one of the few Bruins who’s actually scored with frequency this season was able to bury his chance.
The same could not be said for Nathan Horton, who backed into the slot moments after Blake Wheeler’s tying goal in the third and, with Ondrej Pavelec scrambling back into position after getting caught behind the net, fired the puck almost comically into the Jets logo on the goaltender’s chest. Thirty-one seconds later, Evander Kane was scoring the go-ahead goal for Winnipeg.
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It would be wrong, though, to single out Horton for missing one opportunity, because the lack of scoring is certainly widespread on this Bruins team. Marchand’s 13 goals are nice, but he is the only Bruins player in the top 20 in the NHL in that category. Tyler Seguin’s 10 make him the only other Boston skater in the top 70 in the league.
That’s not going to cut it. Not for a team with championship aspirations. Not for a team that is 1-3-1 against the Eastern Conference’s two best teams. The Bruins can play defense and rely on Tuukka Rask all they want, but until they prove they can consistently turn a one-goal lead into a three-goal lead, the third-period collapses are going to continue.
And those leads are never going to grow until the Bruins rediscover a sense of urgency. In the early part of the season, the Bruins weren’t shy about priding themselves on their resiliency. To this day, you’ll hear the players express their confidence in the team because most of the roster from the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team is intact.
That’s undeniably true, but the roster that lost in seven games in the first round of last year’s playoff is also largely intact, and the team that’s lost five games after leading in the third period is very much intact as well.
The Bruins know they were capable of doing all that was necessary to win games in 2011, and they know they were perfect last year when leading after two periods. That now needs to move to the backs of their minds, and they need to worry more about their current problems than their past successes.
Look at the trend of the blown third-period leads this season. In the 7-4 loss at home to Buffalo, the Bruins did not score in the final 18:15 and were outscored 4-0 in that time. In the 4-2 loss in Buffalo, the Bruins didn’t score in the final 37:31 of the game, getting outscored 3-0 in that span. The Bruins took a 3-2 lead over Montreal right around the midway mark of the game, and didn’t score for the rest of the night in a 4-3 loss. Then there was the loss in Washington, perhaps the worst of the season, when the Bruins built a 3-0 first-period lead but didn’t score in the final 42:07 in the 4-3 loss in overtime. In Pittsburgh last Monday, the Bruins played “hang-on” hockey, hoping a 2-0 lead built in the opening 14 minutes would hold up for the final 46 minutes, when they didn’t score. The Penguins won 3-2. And again on Tuesday, the only whiff of the back of the net for the Bruins came eight seconds into the second period.
It’s telling that almost unanimously, the players and coaches all agreed that the 3-0 win over Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago at the Garden was the Bruins’ most complete effort of the season. The Bruins were able to score three goals in the first period of that game, but they did not score in the final 45:49 of the game.
Saturday’s 4-1 win over Washington may be the Bruins’ other candidate for best win of the year, but when you have to look to games against the sub-.500 Flyers and Capitals for the points of pride in your season, you know you have to be better.
When it comes down to it, everything falls on the players. Julien can take turns calling out underperforming players every other game in order to try to spark a temporary burst, but the guys who are supposed to score goals are going to have to … score goals.
On Tuesday, it seemed to be Rask under Claude’s microscope for letting in the second goal, but Julien knows the Bruins’ problem in Winnipeg was not their goalie. The problem was trying to make a gift-wrapped goal scored in the 21st minute of the game stand up as the game-winner. Nine times out of 10, that’s just not going to work.
It’s not rocket science. In order to change an undesirable end result, one must change the process. For the Bruins to learn how to maintain third-period leads, they must first learn to tack on goals. They have shown an ability to dial up the urgency this year, but only when playing from behind. They need to realize that with the current roster, they’ve gotten enough first-hand experience to know that having a one-goal lead is just as dangerous as trailing by a goal.
The other team can’t come back in the third if you don’t let them hang around in the first place.