By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins got welcomed to the NHL’s elite Tuesday.
Now we’ll find out what they’re really made of as their schedule gets more difficult and opponents continue to show no mercy.
The Bruins lost in regulation for the first time since Dec. 14, 3-1 to Anaheim at TD Garden. The Ducks scored twice in the first period and, despite one of the goals coming on a fluky bounce, deserved everything they got for the way they outplayed the Bruins.
Even when the Bruins improved their play over the final 40 minutes, the Ducks didn’t let up and ended the Bruins’ historic point streak at 18 games (14-0-4).
The Bruins have no time to lick their wounds with similarly stiff tests against St. Louis and Toronto coming up Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
“Well, we’ve got to look at the next game,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “We can’t be looking back; we’ve got to be looking ahead and that’s very important for us. … This part of the season everybody’s really playing desperate hockey, they’re chasing every point for either a better position into the playoffs or trying to get to the playoffs and we’ve got to realize that every team we’re going to play, they’re going to fight for their lives. We’ve got to match that intensity, the emotional part of the game, and make sure that we are ready to play from the first puck drop and not waiting for the other team … we’ve just got to be more engaged right from the start.”
Outshot 15-5 in the first period, the Bruins clearly weren’t ready to resume the post-All-Star break portion of their schedule or their point streak.
“I thought they did a good job of coming out and punching us in the mouth, metaphorically speaking,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “There were times that it seemed like they were hitting us and we weren’t hitting back and we got to focus on ourselves and make sure that we’re using our legs.”
The Bruins have allowed the first goal in eight straight games and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team had ever earned a point in eight straight games that they were behind 1-0 in each. This was the first time, however, where the Bruins truly deserved to be behind. Their breakouts were tentative and sloppy, their forecheck showed up as sporadically as the cable guy.
As if their lackluster play wasn’t enough to undo them, the Bruins were then welcomed back to the rest of the league in the injury department. For a large chunk of the point streak coach Bruce Cassidy was able to trot out the same 18 skaters night after night, a far cry from early in the season with the Bruins were missing several key players at the same time.
Well the run of stellar health – as predictably ready to end as the point streak – is officially over. Already without Noel Acciari and Charlie McAvoy (not to mention the suspended Brad Marchand), the Bruins were down to 10 forwards by the time Anders Bjork and David Backes were sent to early showers by the Ducks.
The point streak was a remarkable piece of history that may not be matched for some time (after all, the last Bruins 18-game point streak was in 1968-69). Regardless of how the rest of this season unfolds, this Bruins team will be able to appreciate what it accomplished.
But hopefully for them they also learn from the streak as they admire it. They played without fear, but they played smart. They picked one another up, not necessarily with physicality, but by making the extra play to cover up mistakes and teammates’ weaknesses.
Much like Vegas in the Western Conference, the Bruins have been playing with little in the way of expectations of success from the outside and maybe a little chip on their shoulders from being counted out early in the season. They’ve flipped the script and now they’re in the top five in the NHL standings and they’re a team that everyone is going to circle on their schedules.
Bruins who weren’t ready for their new role as favorites, especially the younger players that struggled Tuesday, are going to have to learn quick what it takes to handle every opponents’ A game the rest of the way. Or the Bruins are going to fall short of their newly heightened expectations.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.