By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
The Bruins honored Milt Schmidt at TD Garden on Thursday.
They showed a video tribute to the Hall of Famer, the “ultimate Bruin,” as he’s been called time and again both since his playing days and since his passing earlier this week. In a creative twist, they asked for a moment of cheering and applause instead of silence to honor the former Bruins captain.
Schmidt’s No. 15 was painted on the ice behind both goals. Bruins players wore a commemorative No. 15 patch on their sweaters. Schmidt, who until his last day, loved the Bruins would’ve been proud.
But then the game started and it took just 1:08 for the Edmonton Oilers to exploit the Bruins’ porous defense and take a 1-0 lead. With rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo playing the role of lost free safety, Patrick Maroon went to the net and cashed in for his first of three goals in the game.
Although the Bruins actually held a 2-1 lead and outshot the Oilers for the game 36-25, Edmonton prevailed 4-3. Their own mistakes dominated the Bruins more than the Oilers and that soured what should’ve been a special evening.
“For sure a tough game to lose, especially on a night like this,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “It was a night where it was dedicated to Milt and what he’s done and I felt we let him and obviously his family, including the fans, down. It’s a tough way to lose. I thought we were obviously playing a tight game and then again we lost it by mistakes made. It happened in the third and they got a two-goal lead and we made it one goal but again fell short.”
The Bruins have now lost two straight after they had won two straight. They have won just four times in their past 11 games (4-5-2). The only thing making their season seem respectable is the pathetic division they play in, where the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing as though their two long playoff runs the past two years have left them spent and everyone not based in Montreal is barely mediocre on a good night.
Schmidt probably wouldn’t recognize the way these Bruins play the game. Or maybe he would. After all, Schmidt’s coaching record was 245-360-121 for a .421 winning percentage. He knew tough times just as much as he knew the glory of winning the Stanley Cup as a player and general manager.
There were some signs of old-school Bruins hockey. With his team down 1-0 after that quick Maroon goal and the Bruins playing as though the pregame ceremony took a lot out of them, Chara dropped the gloves for the first time this season and even landed a couple shots on Maroon.
“I just wanted to create some momentum and emotions and I felt it was the right timing. I wanted to get us in the game and be more emotionally attached,” Chara said.
The Bruins outshot Edmonton 10-1 during one stretch that included Colin Miller’s tying goal. In the second period, Patrice Bergeron put Boston ahead. But a mistake in the slot allowed Maroon to tie the game back up and another sleepy play by Carlo allowed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to score 14 seconds into the third period. The Bruins never caught the Oilers again.
Maybe putting extra pressure on themselves for an early January game wasn’t the best strategy by the Bruins. Schmidt would’ve rather they just played hard and possibly gotten the two points. Instead Boston got zero points and continued to show off its flaws.
“I think we were ready to play the game,” center David Krejci said. “We have number 15 on our jerseys and also on the ice. Like I said, it would be nice to get the W but right from the beginning they scored the first goal and also in the third period early on. So it’s just things like that just can’t happen.”
The problem is those things can happen and they seem to happen a lot to the Bruins. On the rare night they score three goals, they have too many defensive breakdowns. Most nights they score two goals and hope Tuukka Rask can carry them the rest of the way.
Bruins coach Claude Julien called the Edmonton goals gifts. The Bruins right now have the best present of all – a spot in the Atlantic Division. They couldn’t send Schmidt off with a prize. If they don’t make the necessary changes and begin to win more often, the Bruins will be wrapped up and sitting on the shelf come late April for the third straight season.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.