The Boston Bruins are a mess, a collapsing collection of underachievers destined to repeat their shortcomings of a year ago, gagging down the stretch of the NHL season for a second-straight spring of no playoff hockey in the Hub.
After Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, Bruins fans should know better than to blame the incompetence of whatever junior high school amateurs the NHL has reviewing affairs up in Toronto. The understanding is that they do, despite the anguish and frustration of watching what would have been a game-tying goal in the third period wiped away by monitoring officials, clearly taking their cues for determination depending on which way the loonie lands.
Patrice Bergeron’s disallowed goal in the third period wasn’t to blame for everything that went wrong against the Panthers, now leading the NHL’s Atlantic Division with 91 points. It isn’t the reason why this team has now lost five games in a row, the longest losing streak since right around this time last season, when the Bruins choked their way into a golf-filled April following their abominable stretch run.
It isn’t the reason why coach Claude Julien, lauded before Thursday night’s game with a watch and an all-paid trip to the Magic Kingdom for breaking Art Ross’ wins record behind the Bruins bench, likely has only a fortnight remaining as a head coach in Boston, bound to be the goat for a dysfunctional management team that has proven itself incapable of rebounding from a handful of disastrous decisions over the past half-decade.
Boston is clinging onto its spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with 86 points, being chased by the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, both in wild card slots, not to mention the Detroit Red Wings, sitting on the outside looking in with 85 points. The Red Wings, by the way, have a game in hand. The Flyers have two. The Islanders have three.
The Bruins are screwed.
“We have to keep going forward,” winger Brad Marchand said. “You can’t hold onto any games right now, you have to look forward to the next one. With only seven left, every point matters.”
If you feel like you’ve experienced this scene before, it’s because you don’t have to go too far back for the last time the Bruins vomited away their chance at the postseason. It was only last March, of course, when Boston lost six straight games en route to its late-season undoing, missing the playoffs by all of two points.
Coincidentally, that streak began on March 15, 2015, exactly one year to the day that the current fall from respectability began. With their next game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, they can tie that mark from a year ago before the month even runs out.
“The wins are tough to come by these days, because you know everybody is tightening up and you know goals are going to be tough to score,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who had 32 saves Thursday night against Florida. “So we have to really tighten up, and play team defense, and work together to try to win the tight games. But it’s shocking.”
Shocking? Maybe not so much based on the dismantling that Don Sweeney and Cam Nelly managed in trying to rectify the blunders by former general manager Peter Chiarelli. But to surrender the postseason for a second year in a row, in the very same fashion, is an unacceptable development. And when that happens, somebody will pay. Unfortunately, for all the good he’s done in keeping this jumbled mess of a roster afloat in the Eastern Conference, it’s going to be Julien. Sweeney and Neely have to be licking their chops over an opportunity that would have seemed disastrous a year ago, now reasonable with the excuses that will fuel Julien’s firing early next month.
So, maybe it was fitting that Julien received his honor Thursday night. Because it isn’t going to be too much longer before the Bruins are going through a laundry list of inferior replacements to replace and blame on an annual basis.
One puck that clearly crossed the line, no matter what the blind judges in Toronto determined, wasn’t going to stop that from happening in any case.
It might have helped though.
“We think we’ve got great technology,” Julien said after video supposedly did not conclusively determine that Bergeron had indeed scored in the game’s third period Thursday night.
“I’ve got another coach that texted me,” Julien said, “and there was, ‘WTF. How can that not be a goal?’ That’s coming from somebody who’s neutral.”
Maybe it was one of the nice coaches who gave their regards to Julien during a video presented during the pregame ceremony. Hell, maybe Bruce Boudreau, Bill Belichick, or Terry Francona can invite him to join their staff in a couple weeks time.
But to be fair, that wasn’t the only “WTF” either texted or uttered in the Garden and beyond Thursday night.
“Everything around you seems to go against you, so it’s a matter of staying strong,” Julien said. “It’s a matter of staying positive. It’s a matter of being determined to make your own breaks here and turn this around.
“So, you know, this is not time to hang our heads. It’s the time to show, I guess, the character of our team as individuals and as a group.”
There’s a good chance though that we’ve seen those characteristics already.
In that case, we already know how this ends.
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