Hello, adversity. It’s been a while since the Bruins have seen you.
Jim Montgomery said before Saturday’s game that the Bruins were approaching their pre-All-Star break road trip like a best-of-five playoff series. After losing in Tampa on Thursday, they wanted to get back in the win column against the Panthers on Saturday.
“You can’t lose two in a row in a playoff series,” the Boston coach said. “You really put yourself in a pickle if you do it.”
Well, the Bruins are officially in a pickle then. For the first time all season, they’ve lost two games in a row, falling to Florida 4-3 in overtime.
This was a tough one to swallow, too. It looked like David Pastrnak was going to be the hero when he gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead with 49 seconds left in regulation. But the B’s couldn’t survive the Panthers’ final push, failing to clear their zone and watching as Aleksander Barkov collected a loose puck in the slot and tied the game with just 2.4 seconds remaining.
The Bruins never even possessed the puck in overtime, with Sam Reinhart firing the winner off Charlie McAvoy’s stick and past Jeremy Swayman just 17 seconds in.
So, the Bruins are now 1-2 on this road trip. The final two games? Yeah, those would be at Carolina (the team with the second-best record in the NHL) on the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday, and at Toronto (the team with the fourth-best record in the league) on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs will be without Auston Matthews, though.
Is either really a must-win? Nah. The Bruins have given themselves too much of a cushion to have any must-wins at this point. They’re still 11 points ahead of any other team and 13 points up in the division.
But, they did set a goal to win three of five. Winning the next two would be a nice bounce-back that would allow them to go into a week and a half off feeling like this mini-losing streak was nothing more than a minor blip on the radar.
It would also help sap some confidence that their Eastern Conference rivals might gain if they were to go into the break losing three of four or even four straight. The Lightning were probably feeling pretty good about themselves after Thursday. The Panthers certainly were Saturday. You don’t want the Canes and/or Leafs jumping on board, too.
The Bruins have some things to fix. Their defense has gotten a little too sloppy, giving up 35 or more shots in back-to-back games for the first time this season. They’ve been by far the best third-period team in the NHL this season, but they’ve now lost two straight periods, getting outscored 2-1 in the final frame in both Tampa and Sunrise.
“For me, it’s the third period,” Montgomery told NESN when asked if there was a common thread in the two losses. “The other teams pushed hard and I didn’t think we matched that intensity of the push-back.”
Their power play has also gone quiet, going 0-for-6 over the last two games and struggling to even create good chances. Against a Lightning penalty kill that ranks in the middle of the pack and a Panthers PK that’s in the bottom third of the league, that is especially disappointing to see from a top-five man advantage.
“I think our power play’s gotten outworked the last two nights,” Montgomery said. “I think that has led to very little zone time.”
Then there’s the injury bug. Already without Jake DeBrusk and Tomas Nosek up front, the Bruins lost Trent Frederic to a lower-body injury midway through the first period Saturday. Montgomery told Matt Porter of the Boston Globe that they didn’t think it was anything serious, which is obviously encouraging. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Frederic miss Sunday’s game and possibly Wednesday’s as well.
Joona Koppanen has played his first five NHL games in the last two weeks. Marc McLaughlin made his season debut on Saturday, drawing in ahead of Koppanen. Both would be in the lineup on Sunday if Frederic can’t go for a tough game against the team that ended the Bruins’ season last year.
It’s not like the Bruins haven’t faced any adversity this season. They started the year with Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk all out of the lineup. They’ve dealt with other injuries. But two straight losses is a new test for them.
“We’re facing a little adversity right now,” Montgomery said. “First time all year we haven’t prevailed two games in a row. We’re going to have to look at what we’re doing wrong and ways to get better.”
With the Bruins in such a good place in the standings, a win on Sunday still isn’t a must. Heck, a little adversity could even be good for them. But they definitely don’t want to let any bad habits fester. Clean up the defense, the third periods and the power play, and the wins will quickly return.