OTTAWA — The Bruins have rings. They have individual trophies. They’ve emerged in critical games.
Yet the Bruins were the team that played frightened, disjointed, and scatterbrained hockey against their less experienced pursuers. The Senators made them pay.
After their 6-4 loss to Ottawa on Thursday at Canadian Tire Centre, the Bruins are only 2 points ahead of the ninth-place Senators. Ottawa has one game in hand. The Bruins’ postseason chances were once excellent. Now they’re down to a coin flip.
The Bruins deserve such a fate after wilting against the Senators.
“When you look at the game, they seemed to want it more than we did. That’s the other part that’s disappointing,” said coach Claude Julien. “At one point, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror. Let’s stop pretending here and start showing whether we want to or not be in a playoff spot. We need a lot more from a lot of guys. That was a big game for us. Unfortunately we didn’t get that.”
The Bruins, tied at 4-4 after 40 minutes, lost the game at 11:28 of the third. Bobby Ryan snapped a long-distance shot on goal. Tuukka Rask got a piece of the shot, but couldn’t punch it out of danger. Zdeno Chara, covering a driving Matt Puempel, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The puck glanced off Chara and past Rask. Kyle Turris added an empty-netter.
“He shoots it and I try to steer it in the corner,” Rask said. “It bounces over my stick, hit the pads, bounces up in the air, and it’s in. That’s one of those rebounds you really can’t control. There’s a lot of ones I should have controlled today. That’s one of those that hopped over my stick. Nothing you can do about those. Not good enough.”
But the Bruins lost the game well before that. Rask (26 saves) was as uncomfortable as he’s been all season. The Bruins sprang leaks in their net-front coverage. They gave the Senators too much time and space in the neutral zone to rev up their wheels.
The Senators have enough skill and speed on their own. The Bruins allowed them to maximize their talents.
“We played into their hands,” Patrice Bergeron said. “They want to play that transition game. It’s not our game. We’ve got to go back to playing tight defensively and not trading off one chance for the same thing on the defensive side.”
The Senators got their speed because the Bruins were standing around. In the offensive zone, their high forwards were flat-footed instead of in motion. This gave the Senators a launchpad into center ice.
“They were able to create a lot of three-on-twos with their D-man jumping up,” Milan Lucic said. “They got a lot of opportunities. We didn’t keep things tight enough in the neutral zone, breaking up plays and being hard on them. They’re a team that thrives off the rush in the neutral zone.”
The Bruins handled the puck as if it were radioactive. Reilly Smith was the chief offender.
On the game’s first shift, Smith gave away the puck in the neutral zone. Ottawa thanked Smith for the gift and rushed the other way. At 0:19, Turris gave the Senators a 1-0 lead. The Bruins chased the game for the rest of the night.
“It started off on the first shift,” Julien said. “We turn the puck over. We’re very soft at coming back to the net front. They pounced on the loose puck. You get yourself back into it. But we never found our good, solid defensive structure. I don’t know how many times they got to loose pucks in our net area. We weren’t strong enough there. We were soft. We allowed them to play in front of our net. Because of that, they win a hockey game.”
By the second period, there weren’t many players Julien could trust. The second pair of Matt Bartkowski and Dennis Seidenberg was on the ice for Ottawa’s first three goals: Turris, Milan Michalek, and David Legwand. Julien moved Bartkowski to the third pairing and moved Torey Krug up to play with Seidenberg.
On Ottawa’s fourth goal, a shorthanded strike by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Smith coughed up the puck in the defensive zone. Smith was benched for the rest of the second. He got only one shift in the third. Max Talbot took most of Smith’s shifts with Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
After Pageau’s shorthanded goal, Krug pulled the Bruins back in it at 13:17 of the second. It was their fourth goal. That’s usually good enough for a win.
But not when you give the opponents gift after gift.
“It’s a sprint to the end of the season,” Lucic said. “There’s a lot more pressure on us. If we take care of business, we take pressure off ourselves to finish the season. It’s something that’s self-inflicted. We have to step up our game if we want to end up where we want to end up at the end of the year.”