Claude Julien could stomach two straight shootout losses against the blade-sharp goaltending of Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Pittsburgh's Dany Sabourin. He wasn't that irked about a 4-3 loss to Minnesota in Manny Fernandez's first start of the season.
But after last night's 4-2 dud at TD Banknorth Garden before 12,274 deserve-their-bucks-back fans, Julien had little to take comfort in as his club turned in its biggest stinker of the season.
"This is our bread and butter - our work ethic and our commitment," said the Boston coach, who saw the Maple Leafs rally to score four unanswered goals. "We didn't have our bread and butter tonight."
Julien could have added lack of hands, legs, and a will to compete to a list of sins the Bruins compiled over three periods of humdrum play that bordered on disturbing. For the first six games of the season, the Bruins had competed and taken their game to their opponents.
Last night, for the first time in 2008-09, the Bruins showed little fight, playing meekly against a club that entered the Garden with just one victory in six outings.
"It wasn't a good effort," said Milan Lucic. "There was nothing really positive we could take out of that. You should never get outworked in your own building."
They put 28 pucks on Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala (26 saves). But unlike in their previous setbacks, the Bruins couldn't string together high-quality scoring chances against a Toronto defense that clogged lanes, won puck battles, and took advantage of a lazy Boston attack.
"It's about us," said Patrice Bergeron. "We have to be better and bear down when we have those chances. It's going to happen that you won't have that many.
"It's not always going to be 20 a game. But when you have one, you have to make sure you put it in."
Despite the snarl missing from their game, the Bruins took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes. In the first period, the Bruins broke through on one of the few occasions their players clicked. Bergeron won an offensive-zone draw against Toronto center John Mitchell, pulled the puck back to the point, then drove to the front of the net. Shane Hnidy retrieved the puck and slapped a pass to Bergeron at the side of the net. Bergeron positioned his stick and deflected Hnidy's pass past Toskala at 15:32.
"That was certainly a positive thing tonight," Julien said of Bergeron, who entered the game with 22 shots and zero goals. "When you look back at the game and try and pull certain things out, it was nice to see Patrice score that goal. He's been playing well. He's been working hard. He's been getting scoring chances. It just hasn't been going in for him. So hopefully this is something that will get him going in that department and give him the confidence he needs to continue to score goals for us."
Thirty-one seconds later, the Bruins took advantage of an unfortunate bounce for the Leafs. P.J. Axelsson flipped a cross-ice, diagonal pass to an in-stride Blake Wheeler. The big winger motored into the offensive zone, waited for Toskala to hit the deck, and sent the puck out front. The puck deflected off the stick of defenseman Anton Stralman and into the net at 16:03.
But the lucky-to-be-leading Bruins couldn't bury the staggering Leafs. The Toronto comeback started in the second when forward Dominic Moore blasted a slap shot that Tim Thomas (33 saves) should have handled. But Thomas couldn't catch the puck, leaving the rebound for forward Alexei Ponikarovsky to corral in front of the net. Ponikarovsky missed with a sweep shot, but Andrew Ference was forced to take a hooking penalty at 4:31, giving Toronto its third power play.
The Leafs converted on the man-advantage when defenseman Mike Van Ryn found the rebound of forward Niklas Hagman's shot and whipped a wrister past Thomas at 6:17. Less than two minutes later, Toronto tied the game. Ponikarovsky curled around the net and left the puck for forward Nik Antropov, who was crashing the net, to jam past Thomas at 8:30.
"When we get leads, we've got to have the killer instinct to extend the lead," said Lucic. "But today, especially, we just sat on the lead and let them take over."
In the final frame, after failing to convert a pair of net-front scoring chances early in the third (Marco Sturm shot wide of the goal, then Marc Savard misfired on a one-timer), the Leafs tallied the go-ahead strike. After a shot by Moore was blocked by Hnidy, Stralman settled a bouncing puck, waited for traffic to gather in front of the net, and fired a slot wrister past a screened Thomas at 10:46. Hagman added an empty-netter at 19:57.
"Usually our forte is outworking the other teams," said Thomas. "Toronto is trying to forge an identity as a hard-working team. It was a challenge for us to match that tonight. We fell short."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.