TORONTO — For 18 minutes of Saturday night’s game against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins skated with energy. They crashed the net. They sealed the Leafs in their zone. The Bruins slipped two pucks past James Reimer while keeping their goal clean of offending shots.
By then, however, it was too late.
The Bruins already were down, 3-0, when they decided to step on the gas. Anton Khudobin, who started back-to-back games for the first time this season, was on the bench, wondering how Toronto scored its final goal. The Bruins scratched back two goals, but didn’t have enough time to take back the third, absorbing a 3-2 loss.
“Frustrating because we played after they made it 3-0 in the third period,” said coach Claude Julien. “There wasn’t enough fight in our team tonight to deserve the win. We’ve got to continue to battle. Once we find a way to play three periods like we did after we fell behind, 3-0, we’ll be OK.”
It’s no guarantee, however, that the Bruins will submit 60-minute performances in the remaining month of regular-season play. They staggered for 40 minutes against Ottawa on Thursday. They couldn’t find a way to punch through on Ondrej Pavelec in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss in Winnipeg. The Penguins grinded out a 2-1 win last Sunday.
So the Bruins, who posted a 1-3-0 record on their road swing, return to Boston in search of answers for their on-and-off offensive engagement. Milan Lucic didn’t put a single shot on goal. Brad Marchand, the team’s leading goal scorer, had the puck skid off his blade several times. Tyler Seguin looked to pass when he should have ripped pucks on goal.
“Look at the power play,” said Julien, referring to the team’s lone five-on-four opportunity. “We’re in their end for a lot of it. Two or three times, Marchand, who’s our top goal scorer, is bobbling pucks. Right now, there’s guys that are pressing. It’s certainly not easy for them. But we’ve got to fight our way through it.”
The Bruins scored two ugly third-period goals. Less than a minute after Tuukka Rask replaced Khudobin, Dennis Seidenberg netted his second in two games. Seidenberg whistled a shot through a screen that slipped past Reimer (31 saves) at 2:30.
The Bruins made it 3-2 with Rask pulled and Rich Peverley on the ice as the extra skater. Andrew Ference teed up a slapper that deflected off Mark Fraser and angled past Reimer with 1:16 remaining.
But the Bruins couldn’t get any of that net-front ugliness in the first 40 minutes. At the other end, they limited the Leafs to 13 shots. But three of them got behind Khudobin (eight saves).
In the first, a missed connection between Marchand and Matt Bartkowski gave Toronto the puck. The Leafs countered rapidly. Nazem Kadri slipped behind Seidenberg, took a pass from Clarke MacArthur, and snapped a shot past Khudobin at 4:58.
At 2:52 of the second, Bartkowski tried to keep the cycle going by pinching down the left boards. But Matt Frattin cleared the puck to Ryan Hamilton before Bartkowski could seal off the wall. Hamilton dished to Mikhail Grabovski, who blew past Lucic to gain entry into the Bruins’ zone. Bartkowski retreated in time, but Grabovski used the defenseman as a screen to beat Khudobin.
Khudobin’s night was over at 1:34 of the third. Colton Orr triggered the sequence by bumping Seidenberg off the puck. With the Bruins caught chasing, Frazer McLaren was all alone in front of the net. Khudobin didn’t think he gave McLaren any space. But the fourth-liner banked a shot off Khudobin’s left pad and in.
“The first two [goals] were pretty good shots, I guess,” Khudobin said. “Last one, I tried to stay focused. Unlucky bounce, I guess.”
It was the first time Julien made a midgame goalie change this season. The entrance of Rask (two saves) coincided with the team’s uptick in pace. But it wasn’t enough.
“Thirteen shots, they’re still up, 3-0,” Julien said. “The way we gave up the goals, they were mistakes. The last goal was a weak goal. So I had to give my team a jolt somehow and put Tuukka back in there. We seemed to turn the corner and start playing a little bit more of our game. But we shouldn’t wait for that to happen. Those are things I didn’t like.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.