It was a punch right to the gut of the franchise.
Fueled by a furious third-period rally, the Anaheim Ducks stunned the Bruins, 4-3, in overtime Thursday night, denying Boston the best start in the franchise’s 100-year history.
Instead, the Bruins fell to 6-0-1 after blowing a 3-1 lead when Anaheim scored a pair in the final two minutes of regulation, and Mason McTavish finished it off with the winner during the 3-on-3 extra session.
“Inexcusable,” said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery.
After smothering the Ducks (3-4) for most of the first 55 minutes, the Bruins lost focus over the final five. They went from structured to discombobulated, particularly in their end.
They were a step slow and an inch short to every loose puck while trying to stave off the Ducks’ relentless pressure with the extra attacker on.
“A lack of poise with the puck. We had opportunities. I thought the game was over twice to convert an empty net. Guys whiffing on pucks. The guys were trying to go for the open net instead of using the walls as an indirect to clear and get off the ice. That was mostly it,” said Montgomery. “And then the other thing is we could have extended our lead to 4- or 5-1. We had many opportunities to do it and we didn’t finish the game.”
With the Garden rocking and ready for a historic win, things went south when Patrick Brown went off for holding with four minutes left.
The Ducks, who also pulled goalie John Gibson, dominated at 6 on 4. Though the Bruins were able to quash the penalty, they never looked comfortable during the kill, giving up chance after chance.
Things got really uncomfortable when rookie first-rounder Leo Carlsson struck for his second career goal to trim the lead to 3-2 with 1:55 left.
You could feel the sense of impending doom.
With Gibson still on the bench, Troy Terry tied it with a quick rising wrister from the right dot with just 15 ticks left on the clock.
Having seized the momentum, the Ducks controlled the overtime period and McTavish ended it, sneaking a wrister past Linus Ullmark (28 saves) off a pass from Carlsson.
“Well, those are games you want to finish the right way and those are points you need down the stretch,” said Charlie Coyle. “It’s tough to win this league. You’re never out of it. And we’ve got to learn from it.”
After a strong opening 10 minutes, the Bruins fell behind, 1-0, on a Radko Gudas goal that actually deflected off Hampus Lindholm’s skate.
Boston had a handful of decent opportunities in the first period but couldn’t get anything past Gibson (27 saves).
The second period was a different story.
Less than a minute in, Jackson LaCombe cross-checked Matt Poitras from behind, the rookie’s face smashing into the glass. The Bruins did not take kindly to the assault on their 19-year-old center, and they first went after LaCombe and then they went after the net.
Consecutive goals by Coyle (a net-front tap-in off a David Pastrnak slap-pass), Matt Grzelcyk (a one-timer from the dot that sneaked through Gibson’s five-hole), and Pastrnak (a follow-up of his dart from the circle) gave the Bruins what felt like an insurmountable lead.
It was the kind of big brother response that solidifies a team.
“I think ever since I’ve been here with the Bruins we stick together like a pack of wolves,” said Montgomery. “So, you come after one of us, you’re going to have to deal with all of us, and I love the way we responded that way and I love the energy we had, and even after we went ahead, 3-1, we had numerous opportunities to extend the lead.”
The first 15 minutes of the third period was more of the same. The Bruins were beating the Ducks to every puck and opportunities to close them out were ample, but they just couldn’t dent the back of the net again.
Then came the final five flurry that nobody saw coming. Getting to the puck and clearing it became a monumental task.
“Yeah, we’ve got to find a way to do that, and we have to play our structure the right way, whether they get a bounce or not,” said Coyle. “It’s up to us to put us in the best position to win a hockey game and we’ve got to get the puck out when the play’s there [or] teams will make you pay. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, teams will make you pay and can’t afford to give them those opportunities. We’ve got to make them earn it and a few of those they didn’t.”