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Panthers extend Bruins’ skid to four

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / March 16, 2012
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SUNRISE, Fla. - This is the Sunshine State, but for the Bruins, a team in a state of perpetual black clouds, a two-game stay in Florida might prove to be the sunset to their season.

Backed by three goals in the second period, including a pair after the Bruins cut the lead to 2-1, the Panthers slapped another embarrassment on the spokeless Bruins, a 6-2 beatdown before 19,044 at BankAtlantic Center Thursday night.

The loss, only 48 hours after they suffered a 6-1 hammering at the hands of the upstate Lightning, was a season-high fourth straight for the defending Stanley Cup champs. After a decent yet uninspiring first period in which they gave up the first goal for a seventh straight time, they were handed loss No. 27 when Marcel Goc, Stephen Weiss, and John Madden struck for goals to put the Bruins in a 4-1 hole after 40 minutes.

It wasn’t over after two periods, but the Bruins were surely out. If the Senators win tonight, they will overtake the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead and send Boston skidding from second to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Look out below.

“We can’t find a way to be effective, offensively or defensively,’’ said captain Zdeno Chara. “I can’t find a way to describe it.’’

Perhaps worse, there doesn’t seem to be any way to reverse it. Defense and goaltending have been the club’s bedrock, the elements that led to the Cup last spring. Suddenly they have become the two softest spots in the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly.

Boston’s forwards make it too easy for opponents to transition through the middle. The defensemen give up yardage as if it were fabric being unwound from a giant spool at a textile mill, and brothers Marty Turco and Tim Thomas are easier to beat than a pair of scatter rugs on a clothesline.

Thomas, the two-time Vezina winner, was the accommodator again. He was at his post for all six goals, and again looked tired, not a shadow of the alert, spirited supreme stopper he was last season. He looks bushed. He should be better, unless the combination of fatigue and age (38 next month) have caught up to him like that Ponzi scheme that eventually hogtied Bernie Madoff. If so, there is little chance of this team avoiding a first-round knockout, provided it makes the postseason.

Weeks ago, in mid-January, it was reasonable to think the Bruins could repeat as Cup winners. Thirty games later, after going 12-16-2, and unable to carry a lead into the third period in 25 of those 30 games, they can’t score big goals and often can hardly survive the first 40 minutes.

Coach Claude Julien acknowledged after the loss that the breakdowns have been team-wide, that there is no single culprit. They won as a team, and now they’re losing as one.

“Twelve goals scored against us in two games,’’ said Julien. “We know good goaltending and good defense can carry us. We didn’t win the Cup because of one person. We won because we’re a team, and we have to work as a team.’’

Any chance of pulling out a win here ended over a span of 1:39 in the middle period, which began with the Bruins cutting the Florida lead to 2-1 at 4:53 and ended at 6:32, when Weiss gave the Panthers a 3-1 lead.

Once more, with the Weiss goal in the net, the Bruins lost what little momentum they built. It has been that way since mid-January. A touch of hope followed by a large dose of reality, usually in the form of a killer goal.

Hammered out of their game in the first period in Tampa on Tuesday , the Bruins were in decent shape here after 20 minutes, trailing, 1-0. With 2:03 to go in the period and the Panthers working on a power play, Mikael Samuelsson had the initial strike, knocking home a shot by Brian Campbell.

But the second period proved Boston’s undoing. The Panthers posted the three goals, including the emotional backbreaker by Weiss, sending the Bruins into the third period with a 4-1 deficit. Goc made it 2-0 only 38 seconds into the second, providing a tip to Campbell’s off-speed wrister from the slot.

Joe Corvo cut the lead in half at 4:53, showing a little more assertiveness than usual when he kept a puck in the zone and carried to the top of the left wing circle before he snapped it by ex-Habs goaltender Jose Theodore. It was Corvo’s fourth goal, only his second since Dec. 10.

But the Weiss strike was only 99 seconds away, then the ultimate dagger came from Madden. With 4:33 left in the second, he made his way to the top of the crease far too easily - slipping in there unimpeded by Chara or Dennis Seidenberg and stuck home the 4-1 lead.

Brian Rolston provided some hope when he drilled in his first as a redux Bostonian, hammering home a one-timer during a power play to cut it to 4-2 at the start of the third.

But the Bruins goal-giving machine kept up its beat, this time almost comically when Tomas Kopecky jumped the lead to 5-2. The goal was a gimme putt, handed to him when Chris Kelly’s pass attempt bounced off Adam McQuaid’s boot and went directly to Thomas’s right post. The bang-bang boo-boo was Kopecky’s eighth. Wojtek Wolski provided the 6-2 closer.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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