DETROIT — The losses have been few for the Bruins of late — few on the road, few at home, and none in regulation. They were bound to come eventually in the days leading up to the postseason as regulars are rested for a playoff run.
The first came Wednesday, a 3-2 setback at Joe Louis Arena, to a Red Wings team more desperate for the 2 points. It was Boston’s first road loss in regulation since Jan. 9 in Los Angeles, and its first regulation loss overall since March 1 against Washington.
Although the sentiment in the dressing room was clear — “We don’t want to lose games. It doesn’t matter if you win 20 in a row, a loss is a loss, especially when you lose in the third period,” said Tuukka Rask said — there was also a sense the Bruins played well enough to win, that a few easily corrected mistakes had been the difference.
“We let our guard down a little bit there in the second half of the third and we made some poor decisions,” coach Claude Julien said. “They capitalized on them. We had lots of chances to win this game, and for the most part I thought we probably deserved to win it.”
But the focus was there for 50 minutes, not 60.
The Red Wings scored two goals in 1:42 in the third period to overcome a 2-1 deficit. The winning goal came on a near breakaway at 12:48 by Gustav Nyquist, the wunderkind who had 12 goals in March, and who has kept the Red Wings steaming toward their 23d consecutive playoff berth. Julien said the Bruins got “caught flat-footed’’ on Nyquist’s goal.
“I thought we outplayed them pretty much the whole game,” Dougie Hamilton said. “It’s kind of unbelievable that we lost. We matched them. We had good chances. We had good zone time. I don’t really know what happened.”
It may have been a different outcome had a first-period point shot by Torey Krug not been disallowed on an iffy call by the officials, who said Zdeno Chara was in the crease. The Bruins scored a minute later on Johnny Boychuck’s slap shot at 16:50.
For Detroit, which is precariously perched in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the win proved they are a dangerous team, perhaps a difficult first-round matchup for the Bruins.
So it was notable the loss made it less likely the Bruins will face the Red Wings right out of the gate.
“They would be [tough in the first round],” Boychuk said. “They’ve got a good team. They’ve got a good system. They work hard. They would be a tough first-round opponent, for sure.”
It had seemed as if the Bruins, who were outplaying the hosts early, were going to take the game when they went up, 2-1, on a Carl Soderberg power-play goal at 1:10 of the third period.
But the Red Wings came back during a time that is usually a strength of the Bruins, tying the score at 11:06 as Tomas Jurco knocked a second-chance puck past Rask. The goalie made a stop on Jurco, but the rebound went to Tomas Tatar, who kicked it back to Jurco.
It was a play on which most of the Bruins were waiting for a whistle, as the puck got tied up in Andrej Meszaros’s pants. Both Rask and Patrice Bergeron said they couldn’t find the puck for a solid five seconds before it reappeared — and ended up in the net.
“We did take it to them the first couple periods, then they started to get some chances — and they buried them,” Boychuk said.
The Bruins led the Red Wings in shots, 25-11, through the first two periods, but Jimmy Howard had done an excellent job at turning them back.
And the Red Wings tied the game at 4:45 of the second, on a power-play goal that occurred as a hooking penalty on Bergeron expired. Tatar, who had drawn the penalty, converted on a shot from the top of the right circle, beating Rask far post with Riley Sheahan screening.
“Their goaltender kept them in the game as long as he had to, then when we got sloppy they made the most of it,” Julien said. “So you’ve got to give them credit. I’m certainly not taking any credit away from them. But certainly I think our team probably deserved better for overall the game that we played. But at the same time that’s what hockey’s all about.”
The Bruins move on to face the Maple Leafs Thursday in another game against a desperate opponent. Toronto had lost eight straight before winning Tuesday.
“We’re disappointed, obviously,” Boychuk said. “But we have to put it behind us and worry about Toronto because they’re fighting for a playoff spot and they’re not going to back down, especially to us.’’