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Blues 4, Bruins 2

Bruins suffer holiday blues

Tuukka Rask, David Krejci (left), and Brandon Carlo cannot stop the puck from going in the net, giving St. Louis a 3-2 lead in the second period.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Things went sideways for the Bruins at 3:23 of Tuesday’s second period at TD Garden. From the bench, Claude Julien used his coach’s challenge, claiming that Jori Lehtera’s game-tying goal should not have counted because he bumped Tuukka Rask’s glove and kept him from making a play.

But the bigger concern during Julien’s challenge was taking place behind the bench. While the war room in Toronto was examining Lehtera’s goal (which was eventually upheld), Zdeno Chara made his way down the tunnel to the dressing room, not to be seen again in the Bruins’ 4-2 loss to St. Louis.

Several minutes earlier, during his only shift of the second, Chara absorbed a hit from Jaden Schwartz deep in the corner of his own zone. Chara completed his shift and returned to the bench. But there would be no more shifts for Chara, whose condition is unknown as the Bruins prepare for back-to-back games in Ottawa (Thursday) and home vs. Calgary (Friday).

“He’s a warrior, so he’s going to play with whatever he can,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “Obviously if he leaves the game, he’s not feeling too comfortable out there. He’s our captain, our leader. He plays in all situations. When he leaves, it’s noticeable.

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“I thought our guys did a decent job of stepping up. But they scored a couple goals right after he left, and that obviously played a part in the game.”

Chara played 9:04 over 11 shifts, leaving the rest of the game in the hands of his five remaining blue-line mates. It did not go well for them.

The Bruins were up, 1-0, on David Backes’s first-period power-play goal. Following Lehtera’s goal and Chara’s exit, the Bruins grabbed a 2-1 lead on Dominic Moore’s shorthanded goal at 8:59.

But it did not take long after that for the Bruins’ defense to buckle under St. Louis’s pressure, specifically Brandon Carlo.

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The 19-year-old has been excellent for almost all of his 19-game NHL stint. Carlo is averaging 22:21 of ice time per game, most of any rookie in the league. He’s defended stoutly, skated well, and moved pucks quickly.

But all of that, prior to Tuesday, had taken place with a generational defenseman holding Carlo’s hand. It was probably not a coincidence, then, that Carlo submitted some of his shakiest hockey with Chara shaken up.

With John-Michael Liles as his left-side partner, Carlo watched the Blues cycle the puck in the Bruins’ zone before Patrik Berglund let a long-distance shot fly. Rask (24 saves) saw Berglund’s release, but couldn’t catch the puck cleanly. Instead, Rask steered the rebound to his right side, not sensing any kind of danger there.

The play backfired. Carlo turned and tried to sweep the rebound clear. But Carlo missed the puck, which allowed Robert Bortuzzo to swat home a sharp-angle shot at 13:59 to tie the game, 2-2.

The phrase the Bruins employ with all their players, not just rookies, is “release and reload.” The idea is to return to the bench, forget about the mistake, and hit the reset on the next shift.

Carlo’s next shift didn’t go well either. This time with Krug serving as his partner, Carlo rolled over the boards in time to see Jake Allen stop a Jimmy Hayes shot. But the Blues quickly went the other way, forcing Carlo and Krug back on defense. With the Blues charging hard, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, and Schwartz snapped off three successive shots on Rask.

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Carlo couldn’t stop Stastny’s cycle on the wall. He couldn’t corral a deflected Nail Yakupov pass. He couldn’t get his stick on Stastny after Schwartz’s shot. Stastny buried the rebound of Schwartz’s attempt at 16:11 for the game-winning goal.

Lehtera sealed the win with an empty-netter at 18:44 of the third.

“I struggled there a bit in the second period for sure,” said Carlo. “Definitely some onus on me for those goals. Regardless, I’ve got to play my game and play the right way, regardless of who’s across from me. I definitely put more responsibility on myself to get in better position there and keep those ones out of the net.”

Lehtera sealed the win with an empty-netter at 18:44 of the third.

Chara’s injury forced the Bruins to scramble. Krug played a season-high 24:44. Joe Morrow played 19:24, also his high-water mark this year. Liles, usually on Morrow’s right, stayed there for some shifts, but also moved to Carlo’s left side.

“You don’t try and do something you don’t normally do, and you don’t try and do something that you’re not,” Krug said of life without Chara. “I’m not going to all of a sudden become a shutdown defenseman. I’ve just got to be myself. The same goes for the rest of the group in their roles.”

The Bruins have options. Colin Miller has been a healthy scratch for the last four games. Kevan Miller is practicing and ramping up for his return from a broken hand. Rob O’Gara, who broke camp with the big club, is available on recall.

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None of these players approaches Chara’s skill set. Chara is the team’s answer to every No. 1 line in the league. No team is built to handle the departure of such an asset.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.