ANAHEIM, Calif. — Too loose on defense at times, too short on luck at other times, the Bruins booted away 2 points Wednesday night, frittering away leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before losing, 5-3, to the Ducks before a crowd of 15,1356 at the Honda Center.
After watching Frank Vatrano fire home the 3-3 equalizer with 8:25 remaining in regulation, the Bruins watched Rickard Rakell knock in his second of the night with 2:34 to go for the game-winner, followed by an Andrew Cogliano strike at 19:11, the speedy winger hauled down by Patrice Bergeron as he took aim on an empty net, resulting in an automatic goal.
The loss ended Bruce Cassidy’s winning streak at 4-0-0, the first defeat for the new Boston coach since he took over when the Bruins fired Claude Julien Feb. 7. The four-game winning streak was also the longest for the Bruins this season.
“We can be better,” noted veteran forward David Backes, who assisted on the first two Boston goals. “We need to be better. It’s getting late and we needed these 2 points.”
The loss left the Bruins still without a playoff spot in the brutally tight Eastern Conference standings, where they find themselves bunched up with the likes of Toronto, Florida, and the Islanders for one of the eight postseason berths.
Brandon Carlo’s goal, the fifth for the rookie, came off a draw that followed an Anaheim icing violation. Bergeron beat ex-Canuck Ryan Kesler on a draw to goalie Jonathan Bernier’s left, with Backes providing a tap feed to Carlo up above the right circle. Backes rotated to the net and Carlo snapped it through the screen for the 1-0 lead.
It was the fourth time in five games with Cassidy behind the bench that the Bruins scored the opening goal.
“It’s easier to play with a lead, no doubt,” said Cassidy. “Ask anybody. I think the goaltenders will be the first to tell you they love getting a lead so not every save is magnified.
“I think if you look at the stats around the National Hockey League — any league, for that matter — teams that play with the lead tend to relax and the other team has to spend a lot of energy catching up.”
Case in point: Prior to Wednesday night’s NHL games, clubs trailing after two periods this season had won only 108 of 682 games. The Bruins, meanwhile, now have won only two of the 24 games (2-19-3) this season that they trailed after 40 minutes.
The second period was among the loosest this season for the Bruins. Cassidy wants a team that errs on the side of aggression. They erred. Too often. But the miscues usually were not a consequence of pushing the offense. They simply made too many defensive zone boo-boos.
In the second, they gave up three goals (Ondrej Kase, Rakell, Josh Manson) and found themselves trailing after 40 minutes, 3-2.
Kase started it, converting a feed from Nick Ritchie at 2:03 after the Ducks assaulted goalie Tuukka Rask on a three-on-one break low in the zone.
The Bruins regained the lead, 2-1, with 6:55 gone when Zdeno Chara, still able to rip off one of the league’s hardest shots, nailed in a slapper from just three feet inside the blue line. Big Z lifted his arms as if he had just crossed the finish line in Paris at the Tour de France.
Only 47 seconds after Chara’s strike, Rakell nailed Rask with a 10-footer from the slot that Rask initially saved but inadvertently knocked it across the goal line with his left skate. They all count, even those assisted by the goalie.
“Skinny pants,” kidded Rask, referencing how the league now has goalies using tailored pants in hopes that more goals will be scored. “It wasn’t the pants, but I squeezed as hard as I could between my blocker and pads, but it snuck through.”
Finally, with 6:48 left in the second, Manson swung out from behind the left post and mashed in the go-ahead strike to make it 3-2. The play was clearly offside and the goal should have been wiped off the board.
However, the Bruins earlier in the period lost their right to challenge when they argued that Brad Marchand should not have been called for incidental contact on a goal scored by David Pastrnak. Replay on the Pastrnak bomb showed that Marchand inadvertently clipped Bernier, which meant the no-goal call on the ice was upheld.
“It was at least a foot offside,” Cassidy said. “My challenge earlier clearly came back to haunt us. I felt that Marsh was out of the way of the goaltender. When the puck went in the net, he was outside the blue paint. But they didn’t feel the same way and I lost the opportunity for later on — clearly I could have used it.”
Less that a minute before the Pastrnak no goal, at 4:55, Bernier made the save of the night on Patrice Bergeron. The veteran center slipped out from behind the left goal post and stepped into a perfect backdoor feed from linemate Marchand. Diving to his right to cover the open side, Bernier went paddle down and snuffed Bergeron’s attempt.
“It sucks,” said Cassidy, summing up the frustrating third period. “Because I thought we played hard to get back in the game against a good hockey team that defends well. I think the guys are frustrated.
“The positive with that is we know we could have won, if we take care of a few things here and there. Nothing worse that leaving a game feeling you had no chance. We definitely had our chance.”