ST. PAUL - At the conclusion of yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center, Milan Lucic lifted his stick and hammered it twice on the boards in front of the Boston bench. The stick didn’t give. With one final whack, Lucic finally snapped the twig, then flung the shaft onto the ice in disgust.
There was no sense in keeping a stick that had no juice.
Lucic had two of Boston’s 48 shots, including a sparkling scoring chance in the third period. At 9:51 of the third, Lucic snapped a close-range shot on goal. But Niklas Backstrom gloved the bid to keep Minnesota’s 2-0 lead in place. It was perhaps the sharpest of Backstrom’s 48 saves, the most he’s ever made as an NHL puckstopper.
“We had a number of chances like that,’’ said Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. “It didn’t go in. That’s always tough when you don’t get that bounce.’’
The Bruins, who dropped a 4-2 decision to Winnipeg Friday night, have lost two straight. They haven’t lost three straight since late October, after which they rolled 10 wins in a row.
The down-and-out Wild snapped a seven-game losing streak. Their goaltender was perfect. They scored two opportunistic goals off the rush. They didn’t give the Bruins many second sniffs. Once more, the Bruins were out-Bruined by a non-playoff opponent.
The Bruins have shot blanks in four of their last nine games.
“We’re getting frustrated because we’re not scoring,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We’re getting a lot of shots every night. I think we can still be better as far as getting to the front of the net and finishing around those areas. We had a breakaway. We’re getting chances. Right now, we’re not burying them. I think we’re squeezing our sticks a little bit because of what we’re going through. You’ve just got to stick with it here and fight your way out of it. Simple as that.’’
The Wild scored both goals with speed through the neutral zone. Before their first strike, the Wild won four straight puck battles along the wall to initiate their breakout. With the last pass, Dany Heatley tapped the puck to in-stride Chad Rau, who hurtled over the offensive blue line. Chara was backtracking, but he couldn’t get in position to fend off Rau’s attack.
As Marco Scandella jumped up to join the rush, Rau, speeding down the left wing, looked to pass to his teammate. Instead, Rau fired an off-wing wrister low blocker on Tim Thomas to beat the Boston netminder at 10:15 of the second. It was Rau’s second career goal. He was recalled from Houston, Minnesota’s AHL affiliate, yesterday morning.
“He was looking at [Scandella] and he wasn’t even looking where he was shooting,’’ Chara said of Rau. “He made a really nice shot - short side off the post.’’
The Wild doubled their lead at 15:30 of the second with a power-play goal. With Chris Kelly in the box for tripping, Devin Setoguchi carried the puck through the neutral zone and hit Matt Cullen. The center split Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, but fanned on his shot. Before the Bruins could find the loose puck, Cullen had recovered and snapped his second attempt past Thomas (27 saves) to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.
“They hit him with speed, but we still had good position,’’ Chara said. “He lost the puck. He fanned on it. We all went for that unsuccessful shot. He got up, changed direction, and hit the net. Those are two goals that we could have prevented. But those are little mistakes that are a little unlucky, too. They will happen.’’
But such errors are compounded because the Bruins aren’t finishing. In the first period, Daniel Paille had a partial breakaway. Backstrom punched out Paille’s shot with his blocker. In the final minute of the first, Andrew Ference rotated down low to swat a puck on goal. Backstrom stayed with Ference to kick out the defenseman’s shot.
In the third period, the Bruins pushed their hardest. They winged 22 pucks on the Minnesota net. But Backstrom wasn’t going to be beaten.
“I think if you get too narrowly focused . . . it could probably get frustrating,’’ Ference said. “As a team, we’re talking about getting our game back in order. I think we are taking steps in the right direction. As long as we keep building our game back up, not focus on necessarily [yesterday], but focus on where it’s going, you can keep the frustration at bay.
“I think everyone knows in here that just being frustrated doesn’t bring a lot of success to the turnaround. It puts a decline in your game. There’s been a good effort and good determination by guys to get our game back. You could draw that from [yesterday]. On a game-by-game basis, it’s frustrating. But in the bigger picture, we’re making strides the right way.’’