By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – Denial was flowing like a river through the Bruins’ dressing room Wednesday night.
“I thought we did a pretty good job down [around the net],” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “We had a lot of really good opportunities and their goalie made some big saves, so you’ve got to give him credit. He’s a good goalie.”
“We’re having some good looks but too many of them are just one and done and we have to make it a little harder for [goaltender Craig Anderson] to see the puck,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said.
The Bruins had 22 shots on net in their 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first round at TD Garden. Boston trails the best-of-7 series 3-1 with Game 5 set for Friday in Ottawa.
The Bruins had 10 shots over the final two periods after an active first period. They went one stretch of 12:58 in the third period without landing a shot on Anderson.
It’s time for the Bruins to stop celebrating how hard they tried.
“Yeah, I didn’t know that. So it’s a good stat,” Marchand said when presented with the evidence that the Bruins were AWOL for more than half of the third period.
He might also be interested to know that the Senators blocked four shots during that shot-less stretch, which didn’t end until the Bruins had a 6-on-5 with Tuukka Rask pulled for an extra attacker.
For all the injuries on defense, the Bruins are not being hurt by having Charlie McAvoy, John-Michael Liles and Joe Morrow skate regular shifts. In fact, McAvoy has arguably been one of the Bruins’ best three players in this series.
What’s lacking right now is the determination to fight through Ottawa’s trap, to win the battles for the puck all over the ice, and some game planning and lineup juggling that could make the difference between a one-goal loss and a one-goal win, which has been the margin in all four games.
To his credit, Marchand answered the bell after consecutive quiet games. He had six shots on net and 10 attempts total. He was robbed twice when breaking in alone on Anderson in the first period, and then was again denied on the doorstep with a little more than a minute to go in regulation. He still had some puck-handling issues, but at least he was on the puck.
We’re still waiting for David Pastrnak to land his first shot on net (he missed the net four times). Drew Stafford got sentenced to playing with Ryan Spooner and had no shots. Spooner had one shift where he nearly scored on a 3-on-1 but his wrist shot from the high slot was kicked away by Anderson. Later Spooner nearly coughed up a goal on the same shift and his line was pinned in when Erik Karlsson found Bobby Ryan in front for the only goal of the game later on. Spooner continued to reach into puck battles with his stick as though he can’t take the smell.
With David Krejci clearly hobbled by his mystery “upper-body injury,” Spooner regressing and Noel Acciari unable to score a goal that wasn’t overturned by a ridiculous coach’s challenge — Acciari had entered the zone offside 19 seconds earlier — the Bruins were a mess at the offensive end.
Coach Bruce Cassidy stayed positive after the loss.
“Tonight, I thought our effort and compete level … was good. I’m not going to fault the guys,” he said. “Like I said, I think we need to hit the net more often with good chances to create some second chances and force them to be uncomfortable.”
The Senators not only know how to stick to their system, their coach Guy Boucher seems to always refocus them every time they stray from the game plan. They also seem to be masters at knowing every tendency of every Bruins player. Every time a Bruins player makes a pass or turns with the puck, there’s a Senator to greet him. The other way, the Bruins always seem surprised by what Ottawa’s trying to do with the puck.
Some of that can be overcome with more hard work.
It also might be a case that Cassidy is learning how to coach in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and hasn’t been able to adjust fast enough. His line changes in Game 3 sparked the comeback that forced overtime after the Bruins trailed 3-0. Cassidy’s lines were status quo in Game 4 despite the zombie apocalypse of the third period. Maybe a shift or two for Pastrnak with Marchand and Bergeron would’ve put a puck or two behind Anderson. Perhaps the Bruins have to change some of their dump-ins rather than avoiding Anderson and his puck handling skills all the time.
Despite all the playoff novices on the Bruins’ roster, there are plenty of players who’ve been through this at the NHL level to pass on some wisdom, and guys that have battled in the playoffs at other levels. It should be no surprise to anyone that it takes a dire effort to prevail. When you add up “hustle points” you can start with face offs, where the Bruins were again on the short end, 54-46 percent. Then look at the Bruins’ lone power-play opportunity and realize they’re clearly not trying hard enough to put the Senators in those uncomfortable positions.
It was a tradition back when the Bruins were a fixture every year in the playoffs (I’m trying hard not to mention the coach and GM of that era) that they didn’t meekly stumble out of the playoffs. They forced Game 7s in 2008 and 2009 after trailing 3-1 in the series. They forced Game 7 after being down 3-2 on the road in 2012. They only loss in less than seven games once, and that was a six-game Stanley Cup final to Chicago.
But those Bruins teams had guts. They played down a couple or three defensemen, they fought through kidney stones and punctured lungs and broken legs.
The 2016-17 Bruins are a long way from showing they can do even half of that.
They have a chance to start Friday.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.