UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Bruins are nothing if not entertaining, but one month into the 2005-06 NHL season, they have nearly perfected the art of playing well enough only to lose. Entertaining, for sure, but not all that amusing.
Here on Long Island, facing Mike Milbury's madeover Islanders, they lost again last night, 4-3, and again the loss came in overtime, this time to the one-man wrecking crew that was Shawn Bates, the former Bruins forward via Medford and Boston University.
Bates, his resume of no interest to the Bruins after the 2000-01 season, not only scored the winning goal with 28.2 seconds remaining in overtime, he also earlier knocked Brian Leetch, Boston's top defender, out of the lineup for the night -- and possibly much longer.
Leetch banged into the 30-year-old Bates at Boston's blue line with about 3:10 remaining in the second period, a play barely noticed by the sparse crowd of 10,639 at Nassau Coliseum. Leetch, as he hobbled to the team bus without the aid of crutches, told reporters he suffered a blow to the inside of his right knee -- what he assumed was his medial collateral ligament.
''I'm not sure what it is," said Leetch, adding that there was no doctor on hand to examine him. ''I've never had a knee injury as a pro. Eighteen years ago, or something like that, I hurt my left knee, but . . . we'll have to see, I'm not sure what it is."
Leetch will be examined by the Boston medical staff today. Just how long the 37-year-old defenseman will be sidelined remains to be seen, but coach Mike Sullivan said he expects his No. 1 blue liner to miss at least tomorrow night's Causeway Street matchup with the Florida Panthers.
Sullivan also said he expects the Bruins to call up a defenseman from Providence, the most likely candidate Milan Jurcina, who began the season with the varsity. Boston's blue line was already stretched thin by the recent loss of Ian Moran, who sat out last night with a knee injury.
''He got me with his shoulder or his helmet, I'm not sure which," said Leetch, describing his collision with Bates, the Bruins having pulled even, 2-2, approximately seven minutes earlier when Nick Boynton struck on a long-range wrister off a faceoff. ''I thought the puck was going down the boards and then all of a sudden it was in front of me, and, bang."
The Bruins fell behind, 3-2, when Chris Campoli beat rookie goalie Hannu Toivonen with a long softy off the right wing early in the third. With only 61 seconds to go in regulation, the battered-and-bruised Black and Gold were just about to boot away 2 points when captain Joe Thornton knocked in the equalizer. He set up his goal with a centering pass off right wing, then followed it up for the goal-mouth smash as the Islanders stood around, unable to clear the puck.
Despite falling behind, 2-0, in the first, the Bruins often dominated play after the midpoint of that period. For the night, they finished with a 32-23 shot edge (after initially falling behind 7-1), and they were nearly unbeatable in the faceoff dot for the first 40 minutes (winning 27 of 38 drops).
''I thought it was a better, disciplined effort, all around," said Sullivan, his squad now 1-0-4 over its last five outings. ''I thought we deserved a better fate tonight. We're obviously facing some adversity here [due to injuries], but I was encouraged by a lot of what I saw."
There wasn't much for the Bruins to call embraceable in the final seconds. The Islanders turned the puck up ice, Jason Blake connecting with a racing Bates as the former Terrier hit the blue line with a burst of speed. Bates dashed in on the left side, split defensemen Boynton and Jiri Slegr, then popped home the winner, Toivonen allowing his fourth goal of the night against only 19 stops.
''I had to choose between taking the pass or taking the man," explained a frustrated Slegr. ''I didn't know which to get first. He made a good pass to him, and I tried to get his stick -- but it didn't happen."
The Islanders struck for a 1-0 lead only 52 seconds into the game, Oleg Kvasha left all alone in front to pick his spot against Toivonen. Janne Niinimaa made it 2-0 at 11:56 when Alexei Yashin, converted to left wing for the night, fed across a pretty pass for Niinimaa to cash in from above the left circle.
The Bruins cut the lead in half before the period ended, ex-Islander Dave Scatchard popping in a near-gimme from the slot, and Boynton tied it midway through the second when Thornton pickpocketed Bates on a draw to Snow's left.
Now 14 games into the season, the Bruins are 5-5-2-2, barely in the playoff hunt, in need of a No. 1 defenseman, and in equal need of finding a way to write a better finish each night. A good read, but with endings that have become all too predictable.