NEW YORK - The Bruins had themselves one great time most of last night at Madison Square Garden. Yessir, a real nice trip to the City. What great sights.
The Black and Gold scored themselves a couple of goals in the second period for a 2-0 lead. Had the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers looking a little lonesome and, you know, touristy-like, in their own building. Midway through the third period, goaltender Tim Thomas had a shutout, and the Bruins were ready to cash in their sixth straight victory.
Man, what a great place to visit, and just the nicest people in those blue sweaters.
Then, in one of those New York minutes, it all fell apart for the Bruins, that two-goal lead pickpocketed as if they were a bunch of gawking tourists with pockets full of $100 bills in Times Square on New Year's Eve.
Nigel Dawes cut the lead in half at 13:55 of the third. Markus Naslund cashed in another with 53 seconds left. Finally, their fourth marksman in the shootout, ex-Boston University star Chris Drury, snapped a 10-foot wrister between Tim Thomas's pads and the Rangers raced down Broadway with a 3-2 win.
What to do? Head over to the local police station and file the report. Crime: sure victory, stolen. According to a source with ties to the local precinct, the Bruins claimed they never got a good look at the 20 guys who ran off with their 2 points. An eyewitness crowd of 18,200 shrugged, smiled, and offered no description of the perpetrators.
"We didn't move the puck very well from the back end," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, perturbed at his squad's surrendering effort in the third period. "We were hesitant . . . it ended up costing us."
The loss clipped Boston's winning streak at five games, and kept the Bruins from closing to within a point of the Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Until the third period, the Bruins were quick, confident, and anything but unsure of themselves. They looked downright plucky and worthy of taking what would have been their ninth win in 10 outings.
"We earned our two goals, and played well with the lead," noted captain Zdeno Chara, who knocked home the first goal of the night. "But all of a sudden, they got pressure on us, chipping pucks in and attacking with two or three guys on the forecheck. We lost our composure . . . could have played smarter . . . you have to make smart plays and move the puck because no one skates faster than the puck, right?"
Chara connected at 8:44 of the second, ripping in a rebound that came off a Phil Kessel mash attempt near the left post. The second assist went to Marc Savard, whose cross-slot pass set up Kessel. But it was Milan Lucic who made the key play, forechecking in the right corner and forcing Michal Rozsival to cough up the puck. It was a Lucic backhand feed out of the corner to Savard that set up the goal.
The Bruins bumped it to 2-0 at 12:25 on a Dennis Wideman shorthander, Boston's first of the season. Again, a Rozsival boo-boo was key, the Ranger blue liner coughing the puck up in the Boston end, high slot, under pressure from Stephane Yelle. Yelle led the rush out, fed to Savard on left wing, and the clever pivot curled up once across the blue line and connected on a pretty backhand feed to the trailing Wideman, who ripped home a 15-foot wrister.
But in Period 3, the deluge. First Dawes, from close range, cutting the lead in half. Then Naslund, the former Canuck, banging in the equalizer off the rush, a 15-footer with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist pulled for the extra attacker.
With Andrew Ference out with a broken right tibia, the Bruins were short on backend personnel and fatigued as the third period rolled along, playing their third game in four nights. They are now three stops into a 10-game, 18-day tour that allows little elbow room.
The first six shooters failed on their shootout bids. Dawes, Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom couldn't connect on Thomas. Blake Wheeler, Kessel and P.J. Axelsson, who potted the shootout winner Wednesday in Chicago, could not solve Lundqvist.
But Drury came straight down Broadway, shifted to one skate, and snapped in his wrister. Patrice Bergeron followed, and appeared to score, but the replay showed his wrister ticked off Lundqvist's right skate, then ricocheted off the base of the right post. No goal.
"You're up 2-0 like that, and you want to close it out," said Thomas, who made 29 saves. "But they kept coming at us, and they were rewarded eventually. A couple of penalties got us back on our heels, and they kept coming. Our game plan is usually to keep taking it to them, but . . . "
But they jumped on the bus, hurried off to a charter flight to Toronto, and said goodbye to the big city. Such a nice place to visit.