RALEIGH, N.C. — The Bruins only needed 1 point on Saturday to clinch a playoff spot. They were facing a Carolina club that had dropped seven straight games. But recording 1 point against a down-and-out team is tougher than it sounds when you don’t have confidence.
The Bruins watched a 2-2 third-period game turn into a 4-2 loss before 18,680 at PNC Arena. With only seven games remaining before the playoffs, the Bruins are running out of time to regain their rhythm before the playoffs begin.
“I think it will get better,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’ve got another two weeks here. This is where it’s got to happen. I sense some things turning around. Although we didn’t get the win tonight, I sense some things that are coming around. We’ve just got to push in some areas that we have to improve. We’ll be OK.”
When they’re at their best, the Bruins skate with swagger. In their end, Tuukka Rask swats pucks aside with ease. The defensemen retrieve pucks efficiently and move them out of the zone. The forwards backcheck hard, whir through the neutral zone, and establish their forecheck in the other end.
That pace, however, comes and goes. It’s there for one shift. It goes away on the next shift. There is little overall consistency to the Bruins’ game.
On Saturday, their most consistent component came up short. One of the team’s highlights has been its top-ranked penalty kill. Entering the night, the Bruins had killed 91 percent of their penalties. But Carolina went 2 for 3 on the power play and scored the winning goal during five-on-four play.
“As a penalty-killing unit, we take a lot of pride in killing penalties,” Gregory Campbell said. “Unfortunately we weren’t on our game tonight. We gave up a few chances. We have to help Tuukka out a little more. We’ve been really good all year. It’s been good for us. But tonight was an off night. We’re going to have to correct some things.”
At 7:53 of the third, Chris Kelly was sent off for kneeing. Prior to the winning goal, the Bruins got in trouble when Marc-Andre Bergeron gained the zone and maneuvered around Daniel Paille, who steered Bergeron down the right-side boards, while Andrew Ference converged to provide support.
But Bergeron spotted Joe Corvo open at the top of the left circle. Before Rich Peverley could close off the passing lane, Bergeron wheeled a backhander to Corvo. The ex-Bruin hammered a slap shot high blocker on Rask at 9:36 to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead. Jiri Tlusty added an empty-net goal at 19:31.
“That seam should have been covered for that one-timer,” Julien said. “There was no reason why it shouldn’t. Those kinds of things have to be better for us. You’re seeing some good things. Then every once in a while, you see a play and you wonder why. Why are we thinking that way? We’ve just got to get a little bit sharper.”
Carolina’s other power-play goal was one that Rask wanted back. The Bruins were up, 1-0, in the first after a Matt Bartkowski shot glanced off Milan Lucic’s skate and past Justin Peters. The Bruins were less than a minute away from taking a one-goal lead into the second period.
But at 19:24 of the first, with Lucic off for interference, Jeff Skinner settled the rebound of an Alexander Semin shot below the goal line. Rask should have hugged the post to close off any openings. But before Rask could slide over, Skinner banked the puck off the goalie’s torso and into the net, tying the game,1-1.
In the second, Tlusty and Tyler Seguin traded goals. Seguin tied the score at 2 at 17:57 after taking advantage of a bad line change. Andrew Ference started the sequence by standing up Semin in the neutral zone, then chipping the puck ahead to Seguin. The speedy forward snapped the puck over Peters’s glove for his 15th goal.
It was the last time Peters would be beaten. Peters stuffed the Bruins on all 13 third-period shots. Just five days earlier, Peters was pulled after allowing two Boston goals on four shots in a 6-2 Bruins win.
“I think in the second and third, if you look at it, we did a really good job in the offensive zone,” Lucic said. “Being hard on pucks, creating scoring chances, and taking pucks to the net. It’s one of those things like we’ve talked about too many times this year.
“When you get those chances, you’ve got to bear down on them. Hopefully it goes in for you. Just didn’t get those bounces that we had last time against them.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.