MONTREAL — Somehow, it still seemed inevitable. Even as the seconds ticked away, as the Bruins went long stretches without a shot on goal, it still seemed like maybe, maybe they could find the magic they had found late against the Canadiens Thursday night and again on Saturday.
They did, too, but the hole had been too deep, the time left too short. And so, despite pulling within one goal with 2:16 left in the third period, the Bruins could not get the tying goal for the third straight game. They could not make the comeback happen.
“I said it after last game: It’s not going to happen every time,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “We’ve got to make sure we do a better job of playing and having a good start. You obviously want to show some character, but it’s not going to happen every game.”
It didn’t Tuesday night, not with that deficit in the Bell Centre against the Canadiens.
That left Boston with a 4-2 loss, sealed on a Lars Eller empty-netter with three seconds remaining, and gave the Bruins a 2-1 deficit in their best-of-seven series against the Canadiens. They had come back from two-goal deficits in each of the first two games of their series, and perhaps if it had stayed at two goals, they could have done it again.
But they found themselves down by three 13:52 into the second period, and it was too much chasing, too much playing from behind, too many breakdowns and breakaways.
“Just mentally, we’ve got to be more prepared,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “Making those mistakes and giving the opposite team the lead, that’s not a good thing every night. I think we have to be mentally sharper and do the things we talk about.”
In the end, it came down to two breakaways, uncharacteristic plays by the Bruins that resulted from defensive breakdowns, after Montreal had opened the scoring on a pass from Thomas Vanek to Tomas Plekanec at the bottom of the left circle at 10:57 of the opening period.
The first of those breakaways came at 14:44 of the game, after P.K. Subban had been given a roughing penalty after a high elbow to Reilly Smith that also took out Vanek. After Subban served his time, he came out of the box to a breakaway chance on a pass from Eller, left open on a gaffe by Dougie Hamilton. Subban waited as Rask went down, going around him to the right side for the Canadiens’ second goal of the night.
Their next, too, came on a breakaway from the unlikely source of Dale Weise, the Canadien who said earlier this season that Montreal had hoped the Bruins came back in a game against Phoenix so they could be the ones to end the team’s winning streak.
Weise finished the score – the eventual game-winner – by pounding his chest as he headed toward his team’s bench.
“No, no, of course not. Not with our system,” Rask said, on the fact that breakaways shouldn’t occur. “But they happen and it’s just mental mistakes, I guess, letting those guys behind us and not noticing the guy when the penalty was ending. It’s disappointing, but not a bad effort overall.”
Echoed defenseman Johnny Boychuk, “They’re getting a little bit in behind us. They’re getting those passes. That was two breakaway goals – it’s usually not like that for us.”
They were mistakes that the Bruins don’t normally make. And they were the difference.
Said coach Claude Julien, “When you look at the goals that were scored tonight, the biggest thing was the lack of awareness of where they were on the ice. From that first goal, guys sneaking in the back door, on the breakaways, guys sneaking in behind, and not knowing it’s the end of the power play and they should be looking at the guy coming out of the box.
“I thought our lack of awareness really ended up costing us. As usual, we battled back, and got ourselves back in the game, but we dug ourselves a hole too big to get out of tonight.”
It was Bergeron who put the Bruins back into the game with 2:12 left in the second period, scoring on a tip of a shot by Torey Krug off a faceoff win. They had had chances before that, with Jarome Iginla ringing a shot off a post and Carl Soderberg missing a pass from Daniel Paille in front of the net.
The team then came out strong, again, at the beginning of the third period, but that waned. Still, the Bruins finally scored with 2:16 left in the third, brought within one on a goal by Iginla on a tip of an Andrej Meszaros shot.
They couldn’t get any closer. And with that came the loss, ending a streak of 12 consecutive wins in Game 3s for the Bruins, all of that coming in the Julien era. The team had been 14-1 heading into Tuesday night’s game.
“You’re three goals behind, it’s tough,” Rask said. “You battle back, but time is running out. We just need to try to get that lead and play with the lead for us.”