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Bruins’ Brett Connolly stuck in scoring rut

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Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was wiped out by the Bruins’ Jimmy Hayes during the first period.USA Today Sports

NEW YORK — Had Brett Connolly connected on his chance with 56 seconds left in the second period, the game might have turned out differently. Instead, the puck hit the goal post, Connolly's hands went to his head, and his snake-bitten season continued.

Oh, and the Bruins gave up two third-period goals to the Rangers and left New York with a 2-1 loss.

"It's obviously frustrating, the way it's been going the last month in terms of scoring," Connolly said. "But got to stick with it. It was the right move. It's just one of those things. It hits the inside of the post. I put it where I wanted. It just doesn't go in.

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"It's when I'm not getting chances, I guess, that's when you're going to have to start worrying, but it was good to get that look. It was unfortunate it didn't go in."

The Bruins were up by a goal at that point and Connolly's post — one of too many for the Bruins on the evening — was just the latest example of the winger's scoring difficulties this season, leaving him with just five goals and missed chances all over the place.

He had done what he needed to do to free himself but just couldn't convert. It's not the first time that's happened.

"Got to overcome that stuff," coach Claude Julien said. "It's as simple as that. I thought he made a great move. I thought he made a great shot.

"Didn't go in, but if you keep making those kind of decisions, those moves, it will go in for you eventually."

Connolly was coming off his second healthy scratch of the season, and he would have taken a seat in the press box again had Julien stuck with his lines from the morning skate. Instead, it was Frank Vatrano and Tyler Randell out and Connolly and Zac Rinaldo in.

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The last time Connolly was a healthy scratch, he responded with three goals in his next three games. He almost started on that path again Monday night.

"I knew it was coming sooner rather than later," Connolly said of the scratch. "Everybody's been kind of taking their turn sitting one. Got to sit and watch, watch from a different angle. I thought I played pretty well tonight . . . I'm just looking to find that first one, and we'll go from there."

Connolly, who played on a line with Jimmy Hayes and Joonas Kemppainen, finished with 14:09 of ice time and zero shots on net. He has not scored since Nov. 27 against the Rangers, a span of 18 games.

"You've just got to stick with it," he said. "A lot of the game is mental and just got to stick with it. I thought our line was pretty solid tonight. You've got to find ways to get chances and get some goals, and right now it's not happening for me. If I can keep getting chances like that, then they're going to go in sooner rather than later, I hope."

Confidence growing

The point of having David Pastrnak head to Finland for the World Junior Championships was to let him find his game, to watch his confidence grow, to see what he could come back to the NHL and do after an extended absence due to injury.

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That was, at least, the plan, as espoused by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. So how has that gone so far?

"I definitely played a lot in Finland — the Czech team played me a lot — so I was a big guy for the team, so that makes you confident," Pastrnak said. "You get some confidence, which I was coming here with it, and just try and keep it and play my game."

In addition to helping his confidence level, the Bruins also have given Pastrnak a boost in terms of his linemates.

He's gotten the chance to ride with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, a grouping formed when Marchand returned from his suspension Saturday night in Ottawa, and continued in Monday's loss.

Pastrnak scored against the Senators, the only goal for the Bruins, and was right back with the pair at morning skate Monday after a team day off on Sunday.

"It's great," Pastrnak said. "Those two guys have a big chemistry between each other. I just try to fit in. For me it's an unbelievable experience to play with those guys. I can learn a lot of stuff. They've been in the league for a while. Just great experience for me."

But asked about his game, both Pastrnak and coach Claude Julien used the same term. It makes sense, given how much time away Pastrnak had with the fracture in his foot that cost him more than two months.

"I feel OK," Pastrnak said. "I didn't take too much on myself, trying to focus on small details, do the little stuff from the beginning, and get back the good confidence and get back into the NHL games."

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Said Julien, "He's been OK. And I'm not saying that in a negative way. He's been OK.

"He's only played, I think, eight games or whatever since missing seven weeks. It's not easy to come back, but I think he's working hard. He's skating. He's forechecking, backchecking, and stuff like that. I think the rest of his game will come as he plays more."

Krug has evolved

Torey Krug hit a small milestone Monday night, playing in his 200th career regular-season game in his third full season in the NHL. (That doesn't include 27 postseason games.) By now, of course, the Bruins believe they know what they have in Krug, who made a bet on himself this season in taking a one-year deal back in March.

"I've come a long way," Krug said. "Even when I first came in the league, seemed like a different player. Just a guy that was used for offensive purposes and power play and not getting too many chances defensively.

"Now it's a little bit different role on this team."

Krug said he can recognize the differences in himself, in his game, in how he's utilized since that first game, on April 2, 2012, against Pittsburgh. He has seen more opportunity to prove his capabilities defensively, something that in part led to his desire to take that contractual bet on himself.

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"He's a good puck mover," Julien said. "He's been great on the power play. He's been a good asset for our hockey club, especially when we needed some guys that could skate and move the puck. He came in and did a great job.''

"I think over the course of those 200 games he's really learned how to handle size much better than he did when he first came in. It's not always about trying to prove that you're strong or can handle the big, strong guys. It's about being smarter than the other guy, and I think he's done a good job of that."

That was something that wasn't always easy initially. But Krug has spent time watching players like Duncan Keith play defense, and has tried to find ways around that trap.

"That was tough because when I first came in the league I wanted to prove that physically I could go into the corner and battle with those bigger guys," he said. "Over time my stubbornness had to go away in that I could just be more efficient and use my energy smarter and lately I've been coming up with more pucks in the corners in those battles.

"Definitely been a lot of conversations with Claude and coach [Doug] Houda. It's helped me along the way and I'm happy with where it's at, but always trying to get better."

Girardi forced out

The Rangers lost Dan Girardi to a shot off the hand two shifts into the second period. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the initial indication is that Girardi did not break a bone. "It was just a cut due to the velocity of the shot there," Vigneault said . . . Julien said, "Today," when asked what went into the decision to scratch Vatrano against the Rangers. The Bruins' other scratches were Randell and Joe Morrow . . . The game was the 41st of the season for the Bruins, marking the halfway point . . . Kevin and Jimmy Hayes got a chance to catch up on Sunday night, with their father in town for dinner. "He probably enjoys talking hockey more than we do," Kevin said . . . The Bruins opted to charter a train to Philadelphia after Monday night's game in New York.


Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.