Bad enough already, the Bruins’ power play moved center stage to the theater of the absurd Saturday night at the Garden, where the Black and Gold twice watched their man-advantage turn into shorthanded goals for the New York Rangers.
In a league that increasingly has its better teams relying on special teams, the Boston power play has been moribund all season. And Saturday night it became the gift that kept on giving, to the other team, to the tune of a 5-2 loss to the Blueshirts before a sellout crowd of 17,565, many of whom erupted into a “Let’s Go Rangers’’ chant in the final minute of the third period.
“Those special teams, overaggressive might be one term,” said coach Claude Julien, his club flaming out at home after winning the prior three games on the road. “Not realizing that, you know, you still have to defend when you don’t have the puck. You can’t get lackadaisical, and I think we did that tonight.
“I don’t know if I want to call it sloppy, but it definitely hurt our game tonight and our chances. In my mind, that was our biggest issue.’’
The Bruins, back down to 6-5-0 on the season and trying to remain in contention for a playoff seed, fell to 1-3-0 at home. Once one of the toughest barns for visiting teams to win in, the building on Causeway Street has turned into a Delaware North hospitality tour center, the Bruins outscored, 15-6, in their three games on home ice.
“We know we have a great power play — we proved that last year,’’ said Brad Marchand, who helped get the night off to a promising start when he set up Patrice Bergeron with the go-ahead (1-0) goal in the first. “It is going to click. Even though tonight, they got a couple of goals, we were moving it around really well. We had a few good opportunities that we easily could have scored on. If we keep going like that, then pucks should go in the net.”
The Rangers, though, feasted on Boston’s power-play boo-boos, with their back-to-back shorthanders spanning the first and second periods. Derek Stepan struck first with 2:01 left in the first, cashing in on a 2-on-1 break all of 1:29 after Marc Staal was whistled off for tripping.
Then only 2:18 into the second, less than a minute after Jesper Fast was caught for another trip, Kevin Hayes potted the 3-1 lead off a 3-on-1 break. That’s a 3-on-1 break while killing a 5-on-4 power play. Normally not an easy trick, but the Bruins had the Delaware North hospitality center dishing out freebies as if they were token keychains.
“I don’t think we played too bad . . . the special teams kinda killed us today,’’ said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who lost for the first time after stringing together all six Boston wins in his previous half-dozen starts. “And I should have had at least two of those, so . . . that’s pretty much it.’’
Boston’s tiny bit of lead time (11:25 total) disappeared at 15:09 of the first when Nick Holden connected on long-range wrister that was meant only to push the puck deeper into the zone. David Krejci tried to glove it down, only to get just a piece of it, and the puck deflected by Rask’s glove hand for the equalizer.
With the two shorties building a 3-1 lead, the Bruins came out for the third period still facing the two-goal defict. That’s near-certain death in today’s NHL. Consider: Prior to Saturday night, NHL teams entered the third period 37 times with two-goal deficits, and those teams turned around to win only three of those games. So it was essentially over after 40 minutes.
But, wait, it got worse. Thanks in large part to Marchand getting tagged with an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct (yapping), the Rangers went on a four-minute power play at 11:16. The Bruins killed the front two minutes of the advantage, but Pavel Buchnevich connected on the power play at 13:37 to make it 4-1. Over and out.
David Pastrnak was able to close it to 4-2, tipping home a Riley Nash (first point of season) wrister at 14:46, but then Michael Grabner cashed in on a Krejci mistake on the right-wing wall to close it out, 5-2, with 3:12 to go.
“When you let in a couple of bad ones, and mix in a couple of lucky ones,’’ mused Rask, “it gets ugly. So that’s what happened tonight.’’
Ugly. On home ice. With a damning chorus of “Let’s Go Rangers’’ serenading them out the door.
“It’s not even close to what we can accomplish,’’ said Bergeron, particularly frustrated over the abysmal power play. “It’s actually hurting the team right now. It’s about us finding a way and being better.’’
At the very least, it’s about finding a way not to be worse.