SUNRISE, Fla. - In retrospect, the Bruins had the best scoring chances Saturday night. David Krejci one-timed a puck off the left post. Milan Lucic snapped a shot off the crossbar. Daniel Paille had a net-front chance with no defenders in sight.
At the other end, unlucky bounces led to three of Carolina’s four goals. There was Brandon Sutter’s double-tap - first off Johnny Boychuk, then off Patrick Dwyer - that tied the score at 1. Justin Faulk’s knuckleball from the right point that might have skimmed off Jiri Tlusty. Jay Harrison’s floater through rush-hour traffic (again, Tlusty set the most damaging screen) that Tim Thomas couldn’t track.
The bad puck luck, however, did little to disguise the reasons why Carolina poured in three third-period goals to claim a 4-2 win at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. The Hurricanes won races to pucks. They regularly picked the Bruins’ pockets. They assumed ownership of the net-front real estate that the Bruins usually claim as their birthright.
All the things the Bruins usually do, the Hurricanes did better.
“The winning goal, we got knocked off the puck on the half-wall,’’ said coach Claude Julien after the loss. “At first, it was behind the net. They go behind the net and strip us. Then it was against the half-wall. Again, they separated us from the puck. What we normally do to other teams, they did to us very well. We’re a team that can only be a good team when we’re good in those areas. We weren’t very good in those areas.’’
The Bruins have no trouble offering stick salutes when unfavorable scores do not correlate with proper execution. For example, after a 2-1 road loss to Winnipeg Dec. 6, Julien was pleased with everything but the result. That night at the MTS Centre, the Bruins peppered Ondrej Pavelec with 40 pucks. The Bruins were the superior team, derailed by a honed-in goalie.
But there have been too many recent games, including wins, in which the Bruins have not executed with their usual precision. Since the holiday break, the Bruins are 5-3-0. They stomped host New Jersey by a 6-1 margin on Jan. 4. The following night at TD Garden, the Bruins laid a 9-0 whipping on the Flames.
But of their last five wins, two of them (2-1 in overtime over Phoenix on Dec. 28, 2-1 over Montreal last Thursday) have had their coach more rankled than satisfied.
“We’ve been talking about that the last few games,’’ defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said of the team’s lack of sharpness. “Claude’s been talking about it. We’ve been talking about it. We’ve been working on it in practice to clean that all up. It didn’t happen. We just have to move forward now.’’
Saturday’s setback underscored how even lowly foes can be dangerous when the Bruins aren’t precise. Despite playing an on-and-off game for 40 minutes, the Bruins looked as if they had a win in place after Lucic’s third-period strike gave them a 2-1 lead.
The Bruins pride themselves on being one of the league’s toughest third-period clubs. By then, they figure, their four-line approach and bump-first style will have worn out other teams.
Instead, the Hurricanes had the heavier sticks, stronger legs, and bigger hearts. Carolina has won the first three of four meetings this season.
“We’ve talked about how after the Christmas break, our game’s kind of slipped a little bit,’’ Lucic said. “We haven’t really put together a full 60-minute effort, although you can take the Calgary game out of it. It was eventually going to catch up to us. [Carolina’s] goal to tie it kind of had eyes and found the back of the net. It’s unfortunate that we give up 6 points in the season to the Hurricanes. We’ve got to be better. No matter who the opponent is.’’
Tonight’s game against the Panthers will mark the fourth match of forward Brad Marchand’s five-game suspension. Marchand has been participating in practices and morning skates during his suspension . . . Krejci brings a career-best 11-game scoring streak into tonight’s match. He has five goals and 11 assists during the streak. It is the longest active streak in the league . . . Tuukka Rask should get the start tonight. Rask has backed up Thomas the last two games. Rask was in goal for the Bruins’ 8-0 blanking of the Panthers Dec. 23. Thomas, then, likely will be between the pipes tomorrow against Tampa Bay. Thomas gave the Lightning fits in last year’s Eastern Conference final . . . Julien gave the players yesterday off.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.