Dominant on home ice all season, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, the Bruins Thursday night lost their Superman mojo on Causeway Street, falling to the Seattle Kraken, 3-0, in their first regulation defeat at the Garden this season.
The loss brought to an end a franchise-best start on home ice that had reached 19-0-3, and it was the first time they were shut out in 2022-23, stifled on all 27 shots by Seattle goaltender Martin Jones.
“Mental fatigue, not physical speed, mental,” said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, who began reshaping his lines in the second period, his charges stymied in the offensive zone because of the Kraken’s abundant back-end speed. “We had guys wide open that, it didn’t matter who … we make a lot of plays throughout the year. And we weren’t seeing those plays. We were not a second, but two seconds late — and then we were trying to force the plays.”
Despite the loss, which also ended a recent overall streak of 14 games (11-0-3) with at least 1 point, the Bruins remained atop the NHL’s overall standings with a 32-5-4 record, failing only five times in the first half of their 82-game schedule to bank at least 1 point.
They take on the Maple Leafs Saturday night at the Garden, a matchup between the best teams this season. One of the Bruins’ five regulation losses was in Toronto on Nov. 5, a 2-1 trimming on a night when their lone strike was Brad Marchand’s power-play penalty shot.
“I don’t know if anybody could have imagined that this would be our record at the halfway mark,” noted top blue liner Charlie McAvoy. “You know, it’s difficult to win in this league, and to do it as much as we have is a bit crazy.”
Seattle’s win, set in motion by Brandon Tanev’s goal with 7:14 gone in the first period, also was only the third time at home this season the Bruins failed to log any lead time. That has become a trend of late on home ice. In the last four games in Boston, including the Jan. 2 Winter Classic at Fenway Park, they finished upside-down in lead time.
In their last four home games, the Bruins have led by a cumulative 20:18 and trailed for 122:45. Playing from behind typically is not a prescription for success.
Linus Ullmark, stellar in the Bruins’ net despite the loss, suffered his first regulation loss since the 2-1 defeat in Toronto. The leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy finished the first half of the regular-season schedule with a mesmerizing 22-2-1 record.
By Montgomery’s unofficial count, Ullmark faced a dozen Grade A scoring chances before the coach yanked him for an extra attacker with some five minutes left in regulation. The Bruins, Montgomery figured, cobbled together but seven Grade A shots, and that might have been generous accounting by the coach.
It was Seattle’s seventh straight victory, the last six of which have been on the road. Ex-Predator Eeli Tolvanen produced the 2-0 lead with 22 seconds left in the second, and Jaden Schwartz closed out the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:50 to go.
Early in the second, Montgomery reunited the Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak trio, dropping Craig Smith in the order. Montgomery also shifted Taylor Hall to the No. 2 line with David Krejci and Pavel Zacha. The desired pop never came. The Kraken kept delivering with what Montgomery called “swagger.”
“I felt there was a belief the whole time we were going to come back,” said Montgomery. ”The biggest difference I noticed was in the third period — we didn’t have the charge in us. So it just tells me our batteries were a little low.”
The Bruins completed a three-game California sweep on Sunday, returned to practice on Wednesday, then turned up in the Hub flatter than a Iowa cornfield.
Tanev set Seattle on the right track 7:14 into the first, tipping a shot by Ullmark, the Kraken forward actually standing behind the net when he potted his ricochet shot in from Dan Sprong’s quick, low-chance shovel off the right wall.
The Kraken finished the opening 20 minutes with a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 14-8 shot advantage.
The second-year expansion squad kept up the beat in the second, adding a goal to its lead and pushing the shot edge to 23-18. All in all, very unlike how the Bruins have played throughout the season.
By the final minute of the second, the Bruins were fortunate still to be down by only one goal. Had it not been for Ullmark, they would have been down by three or four.
Finally, the Kraken pushed the lead to 2-0, Tolvanen connecting with a dart on a turnaround wrister from the slot with 22 seconds to go before the break. Schwartz closed it out with his long empty-netter.
“Tonight, I think maybe body-wise, not as much,” said McAvoy, feeling the fatigue factor might have been more physical than mental. “But there’s no excuses. You have to show up and play every night and we didn’t play well enough tonight to get a result.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.