Is there a fix to the Bruins’ overtime struggles?

"Some of it is we’ve got to smarten up."

Tuukka Rask and the Bruins are 2-11 this season in games decided by 3-on-3 overtime or a shootout.
Tuukka Rask and the Bruins are 2-11 this season in games decided by 3-on-3 overtime or a shootout. –Angela Spagna/Bruins Daily

Dissecting the Bruins’ overtime and shootout struggles isn’t an easy task. They clearly need more positive results, yet the mere presence of a 3-on-3 extra session or a glorified skills competition paves way for a crapshoot more often than not.

Bruce Cassidy’s squad has been on the other end of that 50-50 tossup more often than not in 2019-20. Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets dropped the Bruins to a woeful 2-11 in games decided by overtime or a shootout.

“There have been plenty of them this year, and it’s probably getting a little bit in our head,” David Pastrnak, the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, said after tallying his 30th goal of the season in Thursday’s losing effort. “We’re missing some confidence there because we haven’t been doing well in those. So obviously it’s frustrating.”

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The frustration reached a boiling point Thursday after the Bruins blew a third-period lead in a tight contest against an injury-plagued Blue Jackets bunch.

Like their 24 victories, the Bruins overtime losses have come in a variety of ways. In some instances, they’ve battled back to even things up to force overtime. In others, they’ve blown leads in regulation or simply traded chances with whichever team they faced on a given night.

The amount of open ice in 3-on-3 play often lends way to an exhilarating, back-and-forth pace. Puck possession and attacking zone is at a premium during this stretch. The Bruins haven’t had many issues developing those traits.

Yet, they can quickly find themselves defending an odd-man rush if things go awry as they did on Thursday. The Blue Jackets quickly found themselves in a 2-on-1 after Pastrnak’s shot missed the net. Seconds later, down the other end of the ice, Seth Jones set up Pierre-Luc Dubois for the game-winner and cemented another disappointing Bruins’ overtime loss.

“Some of it is we’ve got to smarten up,” Cassidy said. “We can’t get caught driving down low, that’s happened more than once this year. On those puck battles away from your net, if you don’t make a play at their end, you’ve got to make sure you put yourself in a better spot defensively to defend the rush or get off the ice. That’s cost us a few times, so at some point, you’ve got to learn from those mistakes as well.”

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Smarter decision making is one thing. But the Bruins need to make the most of that in the 3-on-3 session. And they have a fine blueprint to look at going back to November following thrilling, come-from-behind wins over the Wild and Rangers six days apart.

The Bruins dropped four straight 3-on-3 results since their overtime win over the Rangers the day after Thanksgiving. Thursday’s loss pulled them even with the Washington Capitals atop the Eastern Conference. Yet the extra session losses — including the 0-6 mark in the shootout — have cost them valuable points in the race for that top spot and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

“We’re capturing points and we have to find a way to capture a few more,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “Even if we go 50 percent [in overtime or shootout games] with what we’ve done in the past, we’re probably up five [or] six points probably. So we have to find a way to do it.”

Through all the frustration, the Bruins’ veteran core has kept things stable after these tough results in the extra session.

“We have a really good group of leaders in here,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy added. “There’s not much panic in here, [The losses] are frustrating for sure, but I think we’ll breakthrough. We just have to stay on it and capitalize on our chances, and not give up on the big ones.”

The battle-tested Bruins have a good track record of overcoming adversity. They certainly won’t shy away from attempting to conquer their overtime struggles.

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The silver lining to this: They won’t have to worry about 3-on-3 overtime or shootouts come mid-April.

“Luckily, they don’t play 3-on-3 overtime in the playoffs,” Krug said.