CALGARY — The Bruins skated around aimlessly, confusion and frustration on their faces in equal measure. Calgary was celebrating, an extra point earned, a puck bouncing up and off and around and into the net with the final seconds barely clinging to the clock in overtime.
The swing had been immense.
The Bruins came out hard, skating and passing the way they had been in their January prime, and they rocketed to a 3-0 lead just 50 seconds into the second period. But the lead slipped away, gone in a hail of sloppiness and an injury that helped the Flames to roar back.
The game-tying goal came with 5:09 left in the third period. The game-winning goal came with 2.4 second left in OT. And the Bruins left Calgary with a 4-3 loss as they turned a tantalizing two points into just one.
“When things are tough, things are tough,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose team lost its fourth straight. “We’ve got to keep working ourselves out of this.”
The final play was another bit of indignity for a team that had come into the game having lost four of five games. T.J. Brodie’s shot bounced off Brad Marchand’s stick, off Tuukka Rask’s glove, off the top of the net, off Rask’s back, and past the goal line with a blink left on the clock. That was it. It was over.
“First one of those in my career,” Rask said. “When you’re kind of struggling with your game, that’s when the bounces don’t go your way. It’s happened to us before this season, and we saw it again today.”
There was nothing, at that point, he could do.
On the game-winner, Marchand said, “It’s obviously a very frustrating goal. But I don’t think we can blame it on that. We let the game go a long time before that.”
By all accounts, it started to go wrong for the Bruins at 1:02 of the second period. That was when a shot by Milan Lucic hit the crossbar and bounced out, the iron costing the Bruins a four-goal lead and true command of the game. The shot had come just 12 seconds after Torey Krug gave the team its three-goal lead, which led Flames coach Bob Hartley to swap goaltender Karri Ramo for Jonas Hiller. Hiller would make all 16 saves he would face.
“That was exactly the start we wanted,” Krug said. “We pushed the pace, we were putting pucks in behind the defense, we had our skating legs going. A step in the right direction, but we’ve got to make sure we’re close out games better.”
The Bruins scored twice in the first period, starting with its second shorthanded goal in six days. Brodie made an ill-advised pass in the neutral zone that Patrice Bergeron collected, eventually dishing to Marchand for the score at 6:48 of the first. The Bruins added another, off a slap shot from Zdeno Chara, at 11:27 of the period.
Then came Krug’s goal, when he grabbed the puck after Reilly Smith fanned on a shot, and sent it home.
The Bruins had a 3-0 lead. That should have been it. But they stopped playing the way they had been in the first period. They gave the Flames confidence and gave up the momentum.
Perhaps the Bruins should have expected the push from the Flames. They are what the Bruins used to be: a dominant third-period team. The Flames have now outscored their opponents 72-38 in the third period. The Bruins have now been outscored 43-40 in the same period.
Calgary got their first goal, by David Jones, at 6:52 of the second, then added two from Jiri Hudler to complete the comeback in the third, one at 3:22, one at 14:51.
It didn’t help that the Bruins were down to essentially four defensemen. Kevan Miller was injured with 5:43 left in the second period and he did not return to the game. After it was over, Julien said, “We’ll see what comes out of it, but it doesn’t look good.”
In the third period, Julien opted to shorten his bench, not using Matt Bartkowski — newly returned to the lineup — for the final 7:40 of the period.
“We went with four D’s, our guys were tired and it showed,” Julien said. “When you lose a guy like Miller at a crucial point in the game, it puts your D’s on their heels. At the same time, they started dumping pucks in when we went down to five, they started putting pucks in deep, making our D’s work a little harder. They tired them out.”
And so they lost, the one point hardly a consolation for a team trying to maintain its tenuous hold on a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As Krug said, “Unfortunately things just ended up in the back of our net that on other nights probably don’t. But we’ve got to be better than that. Nobody’s accepting that in here. We understand that there’s still points to be had on this road trip.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.