The margins were thin, again, the difference was a goal, again, and once more the Bruins were the ones on the wrong side of it all. Even worse, they were offside on the one play that counted most, which negated their lone goal of the night.
So, after 86 games in the 2016-17 season, following their 1-0 loss to the Senators Wednesday night at the Garden, the Bruins are now left with no margin for error. Their season is down to zero.
Bobby Ryan, with but one goal over the final 13 games of the regular season, scored with 5:49 gone in the third period, handing the Senators the 1-0 victory and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. It was Ryan’s series-leading third goal, and it came on a second effort, a knock-in from near the left post after Tuukka Rask (26 saves) made the initial stop following Erik Karlsson’s (him again) slap pass down from the high slot.
“More pucks on net, and more rebounds, I think,” noted veteran center Patrice Bergeron, thinking what could get his team out of its funk. “We’re having some good looks, but too many are just one and done.”
Game 5, possibly Boston’s final game of the season, will be Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre. If the Bruins win there, Game 6 will be back at the Garden on Sunday. But for that to happen, they’ll have to get over their perpetual “one-and-dones” and find a way to provide consistent pressure and valid follow-up chances on Craig Anderson (22 saves for the shutout).
All four games of the series have been settled by a goal. The Bruins squeezed out a 2-1 win in the opener, then followed with a pair of 4-3 losses in OT, then couldn’t put one by Anderson with a chance to pull even in the series.
The one to elude Anderson came at 10:49 of the middle period, triggered by a one-time blast off the right point by Charlie McAvoy. Noel Acciari provided the tip, the goal was posted on the scoreboard, and the sellout crowd of 17,565 was jumping.
Until the eagle-eyed Senators requested an offside review.
Sure enough, it was the energetic Acciari, eager to break into the zone as McAvoy dumped in the puck, who was obviously offside (just not so obvious to the linesmen). The goal was wiped off the board. The scoreboard reset to 0-0. And on they played.
“I didn’t even think about it,” said Acciari, unaware at first he was the guilty party. “But things happen. It was on me. I was offside, so there’s nothing you can do. You just have to continue the game. It was definitely tough, not knowing, but it’s still 0-0 and you have to keep going like it never happened.”
The Bruins had other chances, one of them early in the first when Brad Marchand gobbled up the puck near the offensive blue line and zipped in alone on Anderson. Marchand’s doorstep backhander failed. Later, it was Marchand again, racing in off left wing, only to have the alert Anderson race out to negate the L’il Ball o’ Hate’s attempt from the left circle. Another great bid, a three-on-one with 26 seconds to go in the first, had Anderson turning back Ryan Spooner’s attempt.
“Frustrating,” said Marchand, the club’s top scorer who now has but one goal in the postseason. “I had two Grade-A chances and should have capitalized on at least one. So, that’s tough.”
Great chances. None in the net. The Bruins then cobbled together only 10 more shots over the final two periods (the equal of the first two periods in Game 3), and never really made the Ottawa defense, or Anderson, very uncomfortable. They went a stretch of nearly 13 minutes in the third period when they didn’t land a single shot on Anderson.
“The identity of their team is that they are always five back, for the most part,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy, his club 18-8-1 during the time he directed the bench during the regular season. “There’s not a lot of free ice there . . . they have good structure. We knew it would be difficult. For us, the flip side of it, in the first period when we did have our ice, when we did have our opportunities, we didn’t bury them.”
Will Friday change their fortunes? If so, they’ll have to do a far better job of getting behind the Senators’ defensemen, and an even better job of sustaining pressure. Another night of one-and-done and they will be all done.
“We’ll start by winning one game,” said Rask, who has allowed eight goals in regulation during the series, each night allowing his club a chance to win. “That’s all you’ve got to focus on, winning one game. We don’t have to make it any more complicated that it is. We just have to make sure we play a heck of a game on Friday.”