TAMPA - It bothers Claude Julien enough when his players do not execute. But his disdain hits another benchmark when his charges don’t compete like defending Stanley Cup champions.
“Our work ethic and our compete level is not there,’’ said the Bruins coach after last night’s 5-3 loss to the lowly Lightning before 19,204 fans at Tampa Bay Times Forum. “We’re no better and no worse than any other team when we don’t compete. We become a very ordinary team. That’s what we are right now.’’
For the second time in the last three games, the Bruins lost to a down-and-out team. Last Saturday, they dropped a 4-2 match to Carolina. Last night, in a loss to a Tampa Bay club that hadn’t won in 2012, the Bruins looked like a team that is misfiring on too many fronts to give even the basement opponents a stiff fight.
“It’s a whole bunch of little things all adding up and combining together,’’ said Tim Thomas, who looked somewhat ordinary in a 26-save performance.
The Bruins erased three one-goal deficits to make it a 3-3 game in the third period. They were in good shape before the winning goal. Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell outnumbered Ryan Malone in a puck race deep in the offensive zone. But Malone fished the puck off the wall and triggered the breakout.
As Dominic Moore wound up for a slap shot on the left wing, Andrew Ference tried to step in front of the puck. Moore hammered a slapper over Thomas’s glove with 3:45 remaining in regulation for the deciding strike. Steven Stamkos added an empty-netter.
“I don’t think so,’’ Thomas answered when asked if Moore’s shot had skimmed off Ference’s stick. “It just beat me. A combination of it beating me and that one-100th of a second of hesitation to see if it was going to go off his stick.’’
Julien got what he wanted from Nathan Horton. After Monday’s 3-2 shootout win over Florida, Julien noted how much more Horton had to give.
“Horts has got to pick up his game. No ifs or buts about it,’’ Julien said after the victory. “A guy his size has got to get more physically involved. He’s got to compete a lot harder.’’
Horton responded with a two-goal outburst on a game-high six shots. Horton had three more attempts blocked, while two of his shots missed the net.
“He’s the coach,’’ Horton said. “He can say what he wants. I’m here for my teammates. I obviously want to be good for them. I need to keep working hard. Things are going to come. I’m here for my teammates. That’s it.’’
In the second period, Horton tied the game at 1-1. Mathieu Garon stopped Horton’s first shot, but he tapped in the rebound at 4:28.
Later in the second, Horton tied the game once more. Tom Pyatt had given the Lightning a 2-1 lead when he swept in the rebound of a Steve Downie shot. But Horton tied the game after burying the rebound of a Ference attempt at 16:48.
“When he takes pucks to the net - he’s a big, strong guy - and he stays on the puck, he scores goals,’’ Julien said. “He was certainly a guy that gave us some good offense tonight. He scored two goals, but they also gave up three. They’ve been on for five goals in the last two games. We certainly would like that to get better from that line.’’
Horton, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci were on the ice for Vincent Lecavalier’s first-period poke-in. The first-liners couldn’t do anything to prevent Pyatt from scoring his second-period goal, which started after Lucic made a careless defensive-zone turnover to Matt Gilroy.
In the third, the No. 1 line was on the ice to see a botched exchange between Thomas and Joe Corvo lead to a go-ahead goal. Thomas went behind the net to track down a dump-in. He started the breakout with a pass to Corvo. But Corvo had to lunge for the puck, which gave Malone time to close on the forecheck.
With Malone in his face, Corvo rushed his clearing attempt. Nate Thompson picked off the pass and threw it on net, where Moore took a whack at the puck. Moore’s chance didn’t go in, but Malone drove to the net and poked the puck past Thomas at 4:58 to give Tampa a 3-2 lead.
After Lucic was sent off for interference, Paille burned the Lightning with a game-tying shorthanded strike. He sprinted past Martin St. Louis, slowed down, and lifted a backhander over Garon (26 saves) at 10:53.
“Combination of everything,’’ Julien said. “Our goaltending tonight is OK. Our whole game is OK. You don’t point the finger at anybody. But you look at yourself as a team. Right now, it really is about everybody.’’Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.