PITTSBURGH — This was not their game. This was not their style of hockey.
It wasn’t just the power-play goal allowed in the second period — their fifth straight goal allowed down a skater. It wasn’t just the slow start in the face of a motivated and energized Penguins team. This was not Bruins hockey, and it showed in their 3-2 loss at the Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night.
“That’s not where the issue lies with me tonight,” coach Claude Julien said of the power-play issue. “It’s more about we didn’t play to our identity. We didn’t play a heavy game tonight, for two periods at least. And when we did in the third, it made a difference.”
The Bruins scored twice in the third period, including one in the final two minutes, but they couldn’t overcome a lackluster first two periods.
“We played with too much hesitation,” Zdeno Chara said. “We were not playing as well as we could have done. We were not jumping on loose pucks and when you’re playing a team like this, they’re going to take advantage of that. We did a better job in the third, but that’s how you have to play for 60, not just for the last 20.”
Boston knew that the Penguins would come out flying, ready from the drop of the puck, having been embarrassed in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. So the Bruins tried to be ready for that. They weren’t.
“This is where as players and as a team you’ve got to kind of take, I guess, responsibility,” Julien said.
“You build your team around a certain identity and one of them is being big and strong along the boards and winning battles. That wasn’t the case tonight.
“Give them credit. They were a determined team. For at least two periods they were the better team, too, when it came to that.”
The Bruins only came alive in the third, which they began by netting the equalizer on a shot from the point by Dennis Seidenberg that Patrice Bergeron tipped past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 1:05. Then they allowed two consecutive Penguins scores, first by Brandon Sutter at 11:00 and then by Jussi Jokinen at 17:58.
Jokinen’s goal, which turned out to be the winner, came on a turnover inside the blue line as Johnny Boychuk attempted a pass to Jordan Caron. Jokinen sent it high past goalie Tuukka Rask.
“I didn’t see it,” Rask said. “I couldn’t get my eye on it.”
The Sutter goal, meanwhile, left Rask giving credit to the center. As he said, “Good shot. I told him, ‘Good shot.’ ”
Still, the Bruins nearly came back, with Jarome Iginla providing his third of the season against his former team on a one-timer with 1:43 left and Rask on the bench. Boston had a flurry of shots on goal in the final minute, but just couldn’t convert.
“At the end of the day, you have to look at the situation,” Julien said. “If you don’t play well for two periods, it’s nice to get those kind of comebacks, but you’ve got to earn the wins the proper way.”
The Bruins only managed to make it out of the first period unscathed by virtue of the wizardry of Rask, who stopped all of Pittsburgh’s 13 first-period shots. The Bruins had just six in the opening 20 minutes.
Pittsburgh got on the board first at 6:54 of the second period, when Chris Kunitz beat Rask on the power play, after Milan Lucic was called for interference. Kris Letang fed Kunitz in front of the net. The puck hit Kunitz and dropped to the ice, with the winger flicking it between his legs and between the goalie’s pads while facing the opposite direction.
It was the fifth consecutive goal allowed on the penalty kill for the Bruins, who had come into Saturday’s game ranked third in the league in the category. In fact, they had allowed just three power-play goals before the game against the Devils, having killed 21 of 24.
“We know we can be better, and that we can’t spot them that lead or that momentum and expect to consistently get results,” Iginla said.
But one period wasn’t enough, not against a team with the talent of the Penguins. It cost them a chance at two points with another game on the slate for Thursday at home against Anaheim, and three games in four nights this week.
“I think we all can look in the mirror here,” Julien said. “Certainly we can play better, there’s no doubt about that. It’s the ebbs and flows of the early season. I think we have to look at ourselves in the mirror here and start playing more to what our identity is and take some pride in it.”