RALEIGH, N.C. - With two minutes remaining in regulation last night, the Bruins trailed by one goal and were approaching the point when goalie Tim Thomas would be pulled for an extra attacker.
They never got there.
At 18:04 of the third period, the Bruins were nabbed for too many men on the ice, stamping out any hope of pulling Thomas and kicking off a rally.
"Just a guy not being alert on the bench," said coach Claude Julien, who didn't name the guilty Bruin. "He's got to stay on the bench until his man gets off."
It was one of eight critical penalties for the Bruins - a number that led to a 4-3 Carolina victory before 18,680 at the RBC Center.
"Real bad penalties at the wrong time," said Julien.
The Bruins are winless in their last five games, their longest stretch this season without a victory. They play at Atlanta tonight in what should be considered a must-win.
However, they'll be facing the Thrashers after enduring a grinding 60 minutes against the Hurricanes. For the third straight outing, Dennis Wideman played more than half the game (33:38 over 31 shifts last night). Zdeno Chara (32:13) also played more than 30 minutes for the fourth time in the last five games.
With Aaron Ward (broken left foot), Andrew Alberts (post-concussion syndrome symptoms), and Bobby Allen (back spasms) missing, rookies Matt Lashoff and Matt Hunwick were asked to eat up some minutes. In the first period, Hunwick was called for hooking at 7:54, then was benched for the second period, earning only 3:22 of total ice time. Lashoff skated 13 shifts for a 9:09 workload.
"We've got a lot of guys logging a lot of minutes," acknowledged Julien. "We've got two guys who could probably use some experience in the American League. But we have what we have. To have three guys down is a little unusual. You usually call one guy up, but we've got two. It is what it is."
For most of last night's third period, Julien was down to only three proven defensemen in Wideman, Chara, and Andrew Ference. At 6:30, after Carolina's Mike Commodore belted P.J. Axelsson along the boards, Mark Stuart chased down the defenseman and dropped his gloves, earning 17 minutes in penalties (two for instigating, five for fighting, 10-minute misconduct) that made him ineligible for the rest of the game.
Axelsson went to the dressing room at 10:20 and didn't return. Julien said Axelsson had a throat injury but didn't consider it serious.
"One thing we're doing is we're defending teammates," Julien said. "If you look at the replay, the guy takes a run at Axy. If they're not going to call it, you stand up for your players. That's one of those penalties that doesn't really end up costing you."
Fatigue, both physical and mental, contributed to Carolina's third and fourth goals. In the second period, trailing, 2-1, the Bruins killed off a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Marco Sturm, then went on the power play when Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour was called for hooking.
But instead of tying the game with a power-play strike, the Bruins went down by a pair of goals. After a sloppy breakout, the puck bounced off a skate and landed on the stick of Carolina penalty killer Chad LaRose, who sprinted away for a breakaway bid. Wideman, the lone man back, planted his stick in LaRose's midsection, breaking up the scoring bid but giving the forward a penalty shot at 15:28.
LaRose gathered the puck at center ice, then accelerated, throwing off Thomas's timing. LaRose flipped a backhander over Thomas (33 saves) to make it 3-1.
"That caught me off guard," Thomas said. "I thought I was staying right up with him."
Axelsson made it a one-goal game once more with his seventh goal of the season, 51 seconds into the third period. But rookie Vladimir Sobotka sent the puck into the stands at 2:24 for a delay-of-game infraction.
On the following power play, forward Ray Whitney controlled the puck at the left point, while center Eric Staal slipped behind Stuart and Ference, setting up in front of Thomas. Staal got his stick on Whitney's fling from the point, settled it on his backhand, and swung it around Thomas at 3:47 for the winning goal.
"It's frustrating because you lose, 4-3, and guys are giving a good effort," said Thomas. "I wish I could have let in a couple less."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.