RALEIGH, N.C. — The hottest team in Bruins history ventured south late last week and caught a troublesome chill, one that burrowed deeper into their bones Sunday night with a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes that left the Black and Gold with a season-worst three game losing streak (0-2-1). Sebastian Aho, Paul Stastny, and Seth Jarvis all scored before Taylor Hall finally short-circuited Frederik Andersen’s shutout bid at 3:22 of the third period with his 15th goal this season.
Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal then connected into an empty net, outracing David Pastrnak in the process for the final strike — the knockout punch to an outing night that saw a risible Bruins power play go 0 for 6, rarely mounting a solid scoring bid and eventually resorting to fruitless dump-ins on the entry that the fleet-footed Hurricanes easily broomed out of the zone.
Four months into the 82-game schedule, and voila, the Bruins have arrived at their first real test point of the season.
“We talked about facing adversity at some point during the year, and here we are,” said Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron. “We have to face that as a team together. We’ll roll up our sleeves now and learn from what hasn’t been there in the last few games.”
After opening their current five-game trip (1-2-1) with a win in Montreal, the Bruins were rubbed out Thursday in Tampa and then Saturday in Sunrise, where they lost, 4-3, on a night when they never trailed the Panthers until Sam Reinhart’s shot zipped by Jeremy Swayman 17 seconds into overtime.
The story here, where the Hurricanes edged them in four postseason games last spring, was different. The Bruins were sluggish from the first puck drop, never held a lead, and time and time again played pylons to the familiar Hurricanes track meet. If not for Linus Ullmark’s stout work in net over the first 40 minutes, what was a 3-0 deficit at the 40:00 mark easily could have been twice that or more.
“You know what, it really doesn’t matter in the end,” said Ullmark, when considering the 25 stops he made in the first two periods alone. “You have to rely on your goaltender to make saves — unfortunately, I didn’t do that today.”
Ullmark, who finished with 32 saves, now has suffered back-to-back losses for the first time and is a stellar 25-4-1 for the season. He remains the obvious favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as this season’s top stopper.
The Hurricanes, with a lopsided 28-15 shot advantage over the first two periods, doubled their lead to 2-0 with Stastny’s power-play strike 12:05 into the second period, only five seconds after a faceoff in the Bruins’ end of the ice.
Stastny connected with a backhand chip at the right post after a Martin Necas drive off the left point went wide left, bounced off the rear wall and ricocheted directly to the oncoming Stastny.
“Overplayed the shot,” said Ullmark. “I thought it was going to pop out on the same side. Once I realized it popped out on the other side I just tried t throw something in there. He made a good shot.”
Little went right for the Bruins across the opening 40:00, but they were particularly bad, even awful at times, on the power play. They were awarded four PPs in the first two periods and managed but three shots — none a serious threat on Fred Andersen.
As the power plays grew worse, the Bruins resorted to simple puck dumps into the offensive end, rather than to try to playmake into the offensive end. It’s a simple, common strategy, especially on nights when a team is fighting the puck or faced with strong PK resistance.
But to make matters all the worse, the Bruins consistently made poor puck dumps, the result of which saw the Hurricanes easily get the puck out of the zone, or at least prevent the Bruins from creating a serious scoring threat.
Had the late, great Ned Martin been at the microphone, we would have heard the Rooster mutter, “Mercy!”
“Not in real good places,” said coach Jim Montgomery, noting the failed dumps. “Most importantly, our puck support wasn’t real good on them. They had two to our one [players getting to pucks) all night long.
“When things aren’t going well, how are we going to dig ourselves out? We’re going to dig ourselves out by staying together. And we are going to dig ourselves out with better execution with everything we do.”
They get their first chance to reset Wednesday night in Toronto, where they face the Leafs, and then start a long vacation. One they so obviously need.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.