Wednesday night at the Garden had all the emotion you could hope for.
Then, the Bruins took the ice.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to question the Bruins’ effort against the Buffalo Sabres in the wake of the raw display at the Garden, highlighted by Rene Rancourt prompting a sellout crowd to sing the National Anthem in unison, resulting in perhaps the most genuine and moving banner prior to any sporting event, including 17,565 presumed fist pumps as well. For the first time since Monday’s bombings, Boston had its first public gathering, and the uplifting pregame scene only added another volume to the book that details the strength and resolve of this city.
As for the Bruins, yes they picked up a point in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres, clinched a playoff spot, and leaped ahead of the floundering Montreal Canadiens for the division lead with a game in hand. Not a bad evening all around on the surface of things.
So, it’s hard to point the finger over a point they were 27 seconds away from gaining if not for the ill-timed delay of game penalty on Andrew Ference. But even with three days off, the Bruins appeared more a plodding third period team than one playing with a sense of purpose. Ryan Miller made 41 saves for Buffalo, but the Bruins made a healthy amount of those easier than they would have liked. Milan Lucic played 10:53 and didn’t have a single shot, yet another performance that had Bruins fans at a continued loss for words. Tyler Seguin and Daniel Paille each had four shots in 14:49 and 13:24 of ice time, respectively. Among forwards, neither came even close to the time Claude Julien gave to Gregory Campbell (18:32, zero shots).
But that’s really a question that has passed its prime time. I could more succinctly explain the compound mixture for JuJubees than I could what crossed Julien’s mind when it comes to shuffling lines. Much like their still-stagnant power play, the Bruins get plenty of offensive opportunities, but too often look like a mule with a spinning wheel (nobody knows how they got it, and danged if they know how to use it) with the puck in their hands. That’s why Chris Kelly’s second-period score was a bit encouraging, in that his second attempt to score on Miller wasn’t your garden-variety slap at the pads, which was otherwise commonplace on Wednesday, yet a quick lift of the puck that showed a keen awareness of Miller’s position in the crease.
Still, the Bruins’ failure to put games away in the third period is becoming a percolating concern, if not a defining epidemic.
Wednesday’s loss was the 12th time in the last 16 games that the Bruins have managed to score two or fewer regulation goals. They are 7-7-2 over that stretch which began with a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 17, days following a loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins in which they held a one-goal lead late into the third.
Those Penguins come into Boston Friday night for an anticipated showdown, complete with Jarome Iginla, who jilted the Bruins last month after Peter Chiarelli acquired the forward from Calgary. Iginla has produced a 2-4-6 line for his new team thus far, comparable to Jaromir Jagr’s 1-6-7 with the Bruins, and both contests, neither of which Jagr or Iginla has been a part of, between the two teams this season have been nail-biters, with the Bruins coming up just a little short in each. Unfortunately, that seems to be a recurring refrain when Boston faces teams other than Pittsburgh too.
After the scene in the Garden Wednesday, the Bruins’ deficiencies would be easy to dismiss, if they weren’t so familiar or a harbinger.
“We wanted to go out there and win that hockey game. I’m disappointed that we didn’t,” Kelly said. “We wanted to give the city something to be happy about.”
Even in defeat, they did. Securing a playoff spot and leaping in front of the Canadiens isn’t a bad way to spend a lost opportunity either, especially during an evening that emotionally defined the people and fans of Boston. There is no denying the passion and determination that fills the stands, whether it be at the Garden, Fenway Park, or Gillette Stadium.
With the postseason less than two weeks away, it’d be nice to see more of the same from the Bruins.