The message was clear across the locker room, a place of disappointment and subdued voices: The Bruins hadn’t come out with any emotion Thursday night at TD Garden. That’s inexcusable in any game, particularly against a division rival, and especially against the archrival Canadiens.
It was a strange game, so unlike the three that had come before it, in which the Bruins lit up the scoreboard with six goals each time. Instead, the Bruins went down early and showed little life or ability to come back, in a game in which they would fall, 4-1.
“[It was] basically everything,” Patrice Bergeron said. “Execution, and our heads weren’t into it. They deserved the win. We didn’t play anywhere near where we needed to play to have success in this league.”
Or as Dougie Hamilton put it, “I think we didn’t really show up.”
“It’s unfortunate that we come out with that kind of effort against this team once again,” Milan Lucic said. “It’s one of those ones you have to suck it up and call a spade a spade. It wasn’t good enough from, I guess, an emotional standpoint and from a determination standpoint, and you just have to get better from games like this.”
The Bruins had been playing some of their best hockey of the season, having gone 5-0-1 in their last six, but they looked like a different team against the Canadiens — sluggish, disengaged, unable to gain any sort of momentum once they fell behind.
“I would say, from what I remember, our worst game of the year,” Bergeron said. “And you can’t have success if you’re playing like that.”
It was a game that didn’t go right from the start, with Alexei Emelin connecting on a point shot 2:16 into the first period, and Max Pacioretty adding another at 14:32 on a Daniel Paille turnover that turned into a breakout in which Pacioretty beat Johnny Boychuk and put a backhander past Tuukka Rask.
Boston was able to get one back 66 seconds later, with Hamilton scoring from the point, a goal that at first was credited to David Krejci, who appeared to redirect it. But that was as close as the Bruins would get, with a Brian Gionta power-play goal at 11:54 of the second — 10 seconds after a roughing double-minor was called on Brad Marchand — proving to be the dagger.
It was the dagger for the Bruins, and also for Rask, who got the hook from coach Claude Julien. It was the fourth time in his last 16 games Rask has been pulled.
But that wasn’t where Julien, who refused to discuss the decision to pull his goalie, was putting the blame once it was all over.
“It was three things for me: It’s that we didn’t skate well tonight, we didn’t make good decisions, and we didn’t execute well,” Julien said. “When you’ve got none of those three things you’re not going to win too many hockey games.”
He later added, “We can analyze this thing to death and you hear me say that often — when you don’t play your game, you can’t win, no matter what. If you guys [the media] want to give them credit, that’s your job. My job is to worry about my team and my team tonight was not very good in those three areas.”
Montreal managed to land just seven shots on goal in the second period, but scored on two of them, adding a Daniel Briere breakaway strike against backup Chad Johnson to Gionta’s goal.
The Canadiens were able to use their speed to attack the Bruins.
“That put us on our heels,’’ said Hamilton. “There’s not many times that we get hemmed in our own end right in the first period and right at the start of the game. I think they moved the puck and they were quick. We were right on our heels right away, something that I don’t think I have seen from our team.”
The Bruins are winless in their last five meetings with the Canadiens, including a 2-1 loss in Montreal in December. The Canadiens had lost four straight before a win Tuesday against Carolina.
Perhaps that was why it was Montreal playing with jump and fight, not the Bruins.
“We just didn’t have it emotionally,” Johnson said. “We lost a lot of battles — we just didn’t have it. You could see it out there. We just have to regroup and get back to winning.”