WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Bruins coach Claude Julien was not happy. He had not been happy with his team after its shootout loss in Minnesota on Tuesday, and he was even less happy after its 2-1 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
Even with the Bruins having locked up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and with just the Presidents’ Trophy on the line, Julien didn’t like what he saw from his shorthanded team at the MTS Centre.
“We looked like a disinterested team tonight, and they were determined to have a good, strong finish here, and they did,” Julien said. “They were the better team tonight from start to finish. I thought our goaltender [Chad Johnson] was the reason we were able to come out of here with at least a point.”
Asked about his disappointment level after two unimpressive games in a row, Julien said, “Really.”
He added, “Every once in a while your players will disappoint you, and this is one of them. You expected better leadership. Our top line was by far our worst line of the night. And as a team, again, we lost races and battles to a team that skated for over an hour [on Wednesday in practice].
“So, to me, it just showed that there wasn’t much interest in the game tonight. Hopefully, it’s just a bit of a phase here that we are going through and we can pick up our game. Because, as I keep telling those guys, bad habits creep in quickly and they’re hard to break. Hopefully, we got that message tonight.”
Johnson was forced to make 36 saves, yielding only with 1:57 left in the third period, as Evander Kane sent the game to overtime with his 18th goal of the season. Johnson faced 15 shots in the third, as the Jets turned it on to win their final home game of a difficult season.
Bryan Little scored in the second round of the shootout, and the Bruins couldn’t equalize, with misses by Reilly Smith, Ryan Spooner, and Brad Marchand. But in the minds of the Bruins, it shouldn’t have gotten that far.
“They looked like the fresher team and they probably shouldn’t have been, but they were,” Gregory Campbell said. “They made us pay. And that’s what happens when you play on your heels. They had a lot of good chances. Eventually one of those chances was probably going to go in.”
The Bruins, who were without Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Chris Kelly, got their only goal at 10:12 of the first period, with Smith banking a pass off the end boards to Marchand. On just the team’s second shot of the night, Marchand beat former Bruins draft pick Michael Hutchinson, the only blemish on a night in which the Winnipeg goalie made 32 saves.
And it looked as if that score might hold up. But yet again, the Bruins allowed a goal in the final two minutes of a game, and it led to them leaving with just 1 point.
“I think [the focus] is there,” Johnson said. “I just don’t know if it’s, I don’t know. Just, I don’t think we really can afford to lose to teams like Winnipeg. They aren’t in the playoffs and I think we have a lot more to prove. It’s just disappointing.”
Asked whether it was difficult to maintain focus with just a handful of games left, Campbell said, “It shouldn’t be.”
The Bruins have just two games remaining in the regular season. They return home to face the Sabres on Saturday, then follow that with a game in New Jersey on Sunday. The playoffs are expected to begin on Thursday at TD Garden.
Their spot in the playoffs is assured, though they still need 2 points to guarantee the Presidents’ Trophy. But the Bruins know that the play they’ve demonstrated over the last two games won’t get them far in the playoffs.
Of course, they’ll also have Chara, Bergeron, and starting goalie Tuukka Rask in the lineup for those games.
“It shouldn’t be an excuse for our team,” Campbell said. “We’re a good team and we’re built to compete every night. Whether we have those guys in the lineup or not, things are going to happen throughout the course of the season and possibly in the playoffs. It’s something we have to learn to deal with, overcome, and play hard.”
That was exactly what Julien didn’t see from his team on Thursday.
“They’re an experienced group, but they didn’t show it tonight,” he said. “Every once in a while as a coach you’ve got to step in and say what you have to say, so we’ll deal with that moving forward.”