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Blue Jackets 2, Bruins 0

Jarring loss for Bruins

In Columbus, they take it on the chin

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 11, 2009
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Early in last night's third period, before either team had scored, Tim Thomas left his crease, scurried behind his net, and played the puck. As he turned to skate back into position, Columbus forward Jiri Novotny barreled into the Bruins goalie's chest with so much force that his mask flew off.

Thomas's nontraditional headgear (he calls it a "mage," being that it's half-mask, half-cage) clattered to the ice, the chin cup and the strap that holds it in place snapping off. Thomas went to the bench for repairs, but when the strap couldn't be snapped back into place, he had to settle for Manny Fernandez's mask - an in-game switch that any netminder would find uncomfortable.

"You can ask any goalie," Thomas said. "It's not fun to use anybody else's stuff. You're used to your own. But whatever. That's hockey. Fortunately, Manny must have a fairly large head, too. With most goalies, I couldn't fit their mask on."

In a game in which the Bruins felt they couldn't catch any breaks, Columbus scored the winning goal with Thomas wearing Fernandez's mask. The Blue Jackets tacked on an empty-net strike with 26.7 seconds remaining to claim a 2-0 win before 16,675 at Nationwide Arena.

"We get traffic and it doesn't come to our sticks," said Marc Savard. "It's not an excuse. But that one shift there at the end with [David Krejci's] line, the puck's out front, you've got guys falling like bowling pins and it doesn't pop out to us. It pops out to them.

"It feels like that's the kind of streak we're on."

Prior to the winning goal, Zdeno Chara was called for high-sticking R.J. Umberger at 4:55 of the third. The Bruins had seemingly killed Chara's penalty, but with five seconds remaining on the power play, the Blue Jackets scored the only goal they needed.

Raffi Torres took a dish from former Senator Antoine Vermette, skated down the right wing, and let loose a sharp-angle wrister. But after seeing the shot jump off Torres's stick, the next thing Thomas spotted was the puck sitting in his net at 6:50.

"I saw the release," said Thomas (32 saves). "Bars are in different places. The chin's longer. Got handcuffed."

At 10:01, the Bruins equipment staff, having rigged a new chinstrap, completed repairs on Thomas's mask (they also had to perform a first-intermission fix when a shot dented the cage). But the damage was done.

"It's a matter of timely goals and timely saves," said coach Claude Julien. "Right now, we're not getting either. Lately, it's been that way. It makes for tough losses like tonight. I think it was two teams playing a pretty good game until that goal was scored."

The Bruins couldn't do anything against rookie of the year candidate Steve Mason, who stopped 35 shots to record his ninth shutout, the most by a first-year goalie in NHL history. Mason saw only five pucks in a sleepy first period, but as the Bruins jacked up their pressure, the calm rookie - not even a fist pump after the final buzzer - used his positioning and quickness to stop all 30 shots in the final 40 minutes.

Mason got some help two minutes into the second when Milan Lucic's tip of Phil Kessel's feed ticked off the post. But Mason, who wasn't forced to make any spectacular saves, never caved under the heat.

In the third, after the Blue Jackets took the lead, Mason stopped Chuck Kobasew's slot shot at 12:16. At 14:35, he snatched Patrice Bergeron's long-distance shot. At 15:33, following a save on Mark Stuart's wrist shot, Mason covered the puck before Blake Wheeler could poke it free.

"Give the kid credit," said Savard. "He made some good saves. But that's no excuse. We've got to get something behind him with the chances we had."

In the Eastern Conference, the Bruins now lead the second-place Devils by 6 points, as New Jersey edged Calgary last night, 3-2. The Bruins have 15 games remaining, and their cushion might be thick enough to sputter over the finish line with the conference lead.

But the most immediate concern is how to find the 60-minute effort from the entire roster that has been missing during their struggles.

"It's not so much pairings and not so much lines," said Julien. "It's more about individual commitment and getting a full commitment.

"There were certain guys tonight that you didn't notice much. That's not a good sign. This is where we are right now. That's what I mean about full commitment from every individual."

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