MONTREAL — The message seemed familiar, somehow. It was something heard before, revived, unwanted and unwelcome. The Bruins started the season poorly, finding ways to lose even though they had a healthy Zdeno Chara, a sometimes healthy David Krejci, and before the blue-line losses had started to mount.
Yet now, after a five-game winning streak buoyed by home games and lackluster opponents, the fragility is back. The tendency to mope. The ability to fall to pieces when an opponent pushes back.
And it had all started so well on Thursday night.
“We play a good first period, the way that we want to play, make a turnover, end up giving them a penalty shot that they score on,” Milan Lucic said after the Bruins dropped an ugly 5-1 decision to the Canadiens. “We never seemed to recover after that. I think as a team right now we have to not be so fragile and not get so down when things like that happen.
“We have to show some character and relentlessness to continue playing the way that we play. When you build a game like we did in the first period and it just comes apart in the second, it just shows we’re not ready or prepared to play for 60 minutes.”
One night after a debacle in Toronto, the Bruins came here hoping that a new day and new city could bring them back to their brand of hockey, to the team that had built the five-game winning streak before the loss to the Maple Leafs.
And for a period, that team showed up. But that was it. It was just one period of Bruins hockey, not nearly enough against most NHL teams, and certainly not enough against the Canadiens.
“I don’t think we were cocky or anything like that,” Dougie Hamilton said of the team during the win streak. “I think it’s just not [being] prepared. We didn’t show up yesterday and showed up one period today. I don’t really know what it is. I think it’s not that we’re trying to be cute or anything. We’re just not there. We’re not winning battles, we’re not first to the puck.”
Just four seconds into a power play — the result of a hooking penalty on P.A. Parenteau drawn by Simon Gagne — the Bruins converted, and it seemed like things might be different this time at the Bell Centre.
Off a faceoff win, the puck slid back to Hamilton, whose slap shot beat Carey Price, giving the Bruins the lead at 16:04 of the first.
It came amid a period-long stretch of impressive play from the Bruins. They were active. They were pressuring. They were a different team than they had been in Toronto.
It didn’t last.
“The start was very good. We played the way we wanted to play and we got the results we wanted, too, after one period,” coach Claude Julien said. “To make a long story short, weren’t able to sustain it.”
That started not long into the second period, when Carl Soderberg lost the puck at the blue line to Dale Weise, who came in on Niklas Svedberg, starting in place of Tuukka Rask. With no other option, Dennis Seidenberg stuck out his stick. He was called for tripping on a breakaway. Weise converted on the penalty shot, going five-hole on Svedberg at 2:31 of the period.
The Canadiens added two more goals in the period (Lars Eller, 13:00; Max Pacioretty, 14:57), and two more in the third (Pacioretty, 5:09; Jiri Sekac, 14:06).
The Bruins never challenged again, falling apart as they had the night before.
Other than Sekac’s goal, the scores came in five-on-five play, normally the Bruins’ strength.
“If you look over the past seven, eight years, our five-on-five play is what’s made us such a good team, and right now that part of our game is letting us down,” Lucic said. “We have to be better as a five-man unit. That’s why we won five games in a row, because we were really good five-on-five, especially in the D zone.”
It didn’t help that the Bruins’ best players — the ones they need to carry the load in the absences of Krejci and Chara — were not that.
Hamilton, Seidenberg, Patrice Bergeron, Reilly Smith, and Brad Marchand each finished minus-3. Every other Bruin was even.
“In the three goals against, [I was] in the play with all those,” Hamilton said. “Three mistakes. Have to be better.”
He’s not the only one. It was especially disappointing to see from the normally defensively responsible Bergeron line.
Overall, on a night that called loudly for a bounce-back, the Bruins were instead a team without focus, a team unable to sustain the one good 20 minutes it played over the course of a pair of games.
So Julien was asked if given the results over the last two nights there was a lot of work to be done. He didn’t hesitate.
“I would say so,” he said.