Sharks show teeth
They take out Bruins with 4 goals in third
Twenty-eight times this season, the Bruins have carried a lead into the third period. Prior to last night, they hadn't dropped a single one of those matches in regulation.
Problem was, the Bruins weren't playing just another team. They were up, 2-1, against the best team in the Western Conference - a big, fast, disciplined club that's strong on the puck, can put defensemen on their heels, and can make goalies look silly in a hurry.
The Bruins selected just about the worst opponent they could find to fall flat on their faces in the third period.
"In the third period, we just played way too safe," said Andrew Ference. "We just sat back. I can't recall a good forecheck that we had or any solid shifts in their zone.
"You don't do that with a lead. You play the same style regardless of the score. That was the big change - that we got away from aggressiveness and trying to take charge in the third."
In just under 16 minutes, the Bruins saw the one-goal advantage turn into a 5-2 shell-shocker before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden, forcing Tim Thomas to fish four pucks out of his net in the third period. They lost in regulation for the first time in the last 10 games. They lost for the first time in a 60-minute match after leading in the third period. They lost for the first time by more than two goals.
But it was the manner in which the Bruins lost that was most troubling for the home club.
"We played a 40-minute game tonight," said Marc Savard, part of a lifeless power play that went 0 for 5 (2 for 30 for a sickly 6.7 percent success rate in the last seven games). "That's the bottom line. We didn't play the last 20. They're too good of a team not to play 60 minutes of hockey against."
For most of the first period and part of the second, the Bruins were the better team. They buzzed Evgeni Nabokov (28 saves), forcing the San Jose goalie to make some last-second stops that produced meaty rebounds.
With Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward leading the charge, they throttled San Jose's power line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Devin Setoguchi. They clogged up the neutral zone and prevented the speedy Sharks from gaining clean entries.
Milan Lucic, who hadn't scored since Jan. 1, netted two in the first period, both coming off rebounds.
But the Bruins, already missing a right wing in Michael Ryder, lost another rightside man in Petteri Nokelainen with 26.4 seconds remaining in the first. Nokelainen was clipped on the right eye by the stick of defenseman Dan Boyle. There was no penalty because, according to coach Claude Julien, neither referee saw the errant stick and both believed Nokelainen was struck by a puck.
Nokelainen was taken to the hospital. He had been skating on the No. 2 line in Ryder's spot alongside Blake Wheeler and David Krejci. Nokelainen was not wearing a visor; he removed it late last season and has not worn one since.
"It's an eye injury," said Julien. "I don't think it's looking very good right now."
Midway through the second period, the Bruins lost another right wing when Chuck Kobasew was flattened by defenseman Douglas Murray in open ice. Kobasew's right leg was planted during the hit and his knee appeared to buckle. Kobasew was limited to six second-period shifts. He returned in the third period but has an upper-body injury, according to Julien.
"We got thin pretty quick," said Julien. "The second period, there wasnt that many whistles. I think our guys got a little tired at that point.
"We came out in the third period and it was pretty much the same thing. We basically had three lines all night against a team that's pretty big and strong with a full lineup. I think at the end, we didn't have enough to continue to compete against a team like that."
The San Jose comeback started when a shot by defenseman Christian Ehroff deflected off traffic out front and skidded to the stick of Patrick Marleau, who banged a shot past Thomas (26 saves) at 3:32 of the third period to tie the score.
Less than four minutes later, Boyle rushed the puck into the Boston zone and found Milan Michalek in front. The San Jose forward snapped a top-shelf shot over Thomas at 7:28 for the decisive goal.
A Setoguchi feed out front glanced off Thornton's left boot and was redirected into the net at 9:48. Former Boston University star Mike Grier capped the offensive explosion with an empty-netter at 19:31.
"That's the best team we've played so far this year," said Julien. "It would be nice to get another shot at them, and hopefully, with both teams being healthy, we can work our way there.
"But that's a long ways away. There's a lot of things that need to be done before we even think about that."