The last thing the Bruins could afford to do as they started their three-game road trip was treat the first leg like it was an afterthought.
They had games ahead of them against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames — two of the best teams in the Western Conference — and a matchup against a Vancouver Canucks team that had just done the closest thing to a hockey hard reset. The Canucks had fired general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green and replaced them respectively with Stan Smyl and Bruce Boudreau. It could have easily been a pothole the Bruins overlooked.
When the Bruins last saw Vancouver on Nov. 28, they handed them their fourth straight loss. But when they walked into Rogers Arena on Wednesday, they were facing a team with more life after winning three of their last four.
From what Bruins acting coach Joe Sacco saw on film, Boudreau had the Canucks playing faster and more aggressively.
“We always worry mostly about ourselves, but we’re constantly looking at the other team and seeing what they’re doing,” Sacco said. “We played them recently. Obviously, they have a new coach. They’re going to have a certain amount of energy here tonight, I’m sure. That happens all the time when someone comes in new.”
The Bruins found themselves in a dogfight, falling 2-1 in a shootout. Playing the first of three games in four days, the Bruins had a taxing start to the trip, going to a shootout for just the second time this season.
“It was what we expected,” Sacco said. “They seem to be more aggressive on the forecheck, and they were more aggressive on their kill, seemed to come down the ice on us a little bit more, but our power play responded with a goal of its own tonight too.”
In the shootout, Swayman turned away Elias Pettersson but was beaten by J.T. Miller with a late backhand after Swayman committed to the right side. David Pastrnak and Charlie Coyle were all denied by Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko, and Bo Horvat sealed it by beating Swayman again to deliver Boudreau’s second win as head coach.
Swayman said he had a good sense of how the Canucks would approach the shootout from the pregame scouting report.
“That’s a good move, get the goalie moving,” he said. “I just tried to let the puck come to me. Shootouts are a part of the game. I like winning them, but obviously, today was unfortunate. It was a good learning experience, and they did good.”
An interference call on Brad Marchand at the 14:27 mark in the second period set up a late Canucks power play, and Vancouver took advantage with the first goal of the night. That left the Bruins in a 1-0 hole going into the third period.
Brock Boeser tipped in a pass from J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes to give Vancouver the lead and put the pressure on the Bruins going into the final frame.
But a pair of penalties — a slashing call against Juno Lammikko and an interference call against Miller — gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 advantage early in the third, and they capitalized.
Patrice Bergeron, who put five shots on goal through the first two periods with no luck, broke through with his ninth goal of the season, carving out a spot in front of the net and tipping in a pass from Pastrnak to even the score at 1.
Demko stopped 35 of the Bruins’ 36 shots. The only one besides Bergeron’s goal that got by him was a breakaway goal in the second period by Erik Haula, who replaced Taylor Hall on the second line mid-game. Haula beat Demko top shelf but after a video review, Haula was ruled offsides and the goal was overturned.
“I think we had some pretty good looks,” Bergeron said. “We missed a couple that were pretty wide open ... But to me, especially early on. We weren’t really taking the shots. I think we missed on too many opportunities to really shoot and bring it on the net and create some havoc. Every time we did that. I felt like there was a rebound, there was a loose puck and sustained pressure.”
Making his third straight start, Jeremy Swayman stopped 31 shots, including 13 in the third period and three more in overtime to keep the Bruins alive. The Bruins hadn’t scored an overtime goal all season and that didn’t change in Vancouver.
They came away from the loss lamenting missed opportunities and ones they simply passed up. Over their last five games, the Bruins have fired 188 shots at the net but scored just 13 goals.
“As far as our group not scoring, certainly it’s an issue that we focus on,” Sacco said. “We just want to make sure that they stick with it and don’t get frustrated. Usually, good players will find a way to score. If they keep putting pucks on the net, their scoring will come.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.