WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Again spotting their opponents a pair of goals, the Bruins chased the game — and found it for too brief a time.
Goals from Charlie McAvoy and Joakim Nordstrom erased an early deficit, but the Jets were too much trouble in a 4-3 loss at Bell MTS Place.
Charlie Coyle’s redirection of Zdeno Chara’s slapper through traffic with 2:56 left trimmed the ’Peg edge to one goal, but that’s where it stood after 60 minutes, even though the Jets were unable to clear their zone several times with the other net empty.
It left Boston (42-20-9), now losers of three in a row, diagnosing the issues. The Bruins had not slipped like that since Dec. 1-6 (Detroit, at Florida, at Tampa). Before this latest slide, they were 15-0-4, the 19-game point streak the second-longest in club history.
“Other teams are taking it to us,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “They clearly have more energy early on. Some of it could be fatigue in our group. Some of it could be personnel in our lineup who are a little nervous to get started.”
Another undeniable piece: the Bruins took three road losses to playoff-caliber teams (Pittsburgh, Columbus, Winnipeg), while missing a whole lot of talented players. Those in the Bruins’ dressing room whisper it, they don’t shout it, but they know their lineup is far more dangerous with David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Torey Krug, Marcus Johansson, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller healthy.
“That’s going to affect your team,” noted Cassidy. “We’re leaning on other guys in March who have played a lot of hockey for us. We’re trying to balance that with winning hockey games.”
They have not lost four in a row this year, a fact that should inspire them in advance of Saturday’s home date with Columbus, which comes before a four-game road trip (at Long Island, New Jersey, Florida, and Tampa).
“I think it’s mostly turnovers,” said Patrice Bergeron, whose mates have allowed a season-high 15 goals in their last three games. “I don’t think our D-zone coverage is that bad. It’s mostly unforced errors, giving the puck back, not taking the simple play and making it.”
For an elite player like Bergeron, seeing those plays comes naturally. It is not so for others in the Bruins’ patchwork lineup. The Jets made them pay for it.
Winnipeg, (41-25-4), first in the Central Division and third in the West, got out of Boston’s zone and cruised the other way for all their goals. The top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine combined for 7 points.
Without the benefit of matching Brad Marchand-Bergeron-David Backes against that star trio, Cassidy tried to use the Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari-Chris Wagner line. He wound up breaking them up.
They were caught forechecking too hard when Wheeler put the Jets up, 1-0, at 1:08 of the first, by batting home a rebound of a Laine one-timer. The line also took an offensive zone penalty (Acciari, holding) that set up the two-goal lead.
“If they’re going to buy into that role, they’re going to have to relish it,” Cassidy said. “We had a chat with them. They lost their way for a little while, and they corrected it.”
On the 2-0 goal, Laine, a phenomenal shooter with 109 goals the last three seasons, turned down a chance from the circle. Instead, he made a slick dish to a charging Scheifele, who tapped it past Tuukka Rask at 11:24.
“You don’t want to cheat on that,” said Rask, beaten twice more by Laine later in the game, his fellow Finn ringing posts left and right. “I just didn’t make the push in time.”
“I’ve felt good in the past few months,” he said of his game. “Some days you see the puck better, some days you don’t. Nine goals in the last two games, you can’t be happy with that.”
Winnipeg largely dominated the rest of the first period, outshooting the Bruins, 12-6. But David Krejci and his new linemates got one back on Winnipeg’s big guns before the buzzer.
After new addition Paul Carey — unofficially, the 15th winger to skate with Krejci this year — bothered Laine along the boards, Krejci emerged with the biscuit and fed a pinching McAvoy. Connor Hellebuyck had little chance to stop his shot, which pinged off the iron and in. He had a pair of Weymouth products (Coyle and Carey) creating traffic in front.
In the second, Nordstrom, carrying the longest goal drought among Bruin forwards, was dropped to the struggling fourth line. Wagner took his spot next to Trent Frederic and Danton Heinen. The move paid off.
The snakebit Swede, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 17 in Montreal, cashed a rebound and threw an emphatic fist pump at the 10-minute mark of the middle period. He played 25 games without a goal, not including 10 games he missed with a broken leg, and one as a healthy scratch.
“At the moment, I was excited,” said Nordstrom, who potted his sixth of the year in a period the Bruins outshot the Jets, 19-7. “We have really good depth on our team, so [injuries] are not an excuse. We’re a good enough team to win every night.”
The 3-2 backbreaker came 7:38 into the third. The Krejci line was late to backcheck after a Jets faceoff win in Boston’s end. Zdeno Chara and McAvoy let Scheifele walk through the middle, then lost a crashing Jacob Trouba. The pinching blueliner chipped a feed underneath Rask — who later said Trouba bumped him, but accepted the lack of interference call.
With 6:58 left, Nikolaj Ehlers snapped a Heinen giveaway over Rask to make it 4-2. Cassidy didn’t like that one.
“Obviously, we messed up with the puck,” he said. “But we needed a save to keep us in it.”
Coyle, jamming in front, got a piece of Chara’s point try to score his first as a Bruin (and 11th of the year). Rask left the net with about 90 seconds left, but Boston couldn’t get the next one.
“The way we played today, we’ve got to be somewhat happy with that,” Rask said. “After the first 10 or so minutes, we played great. We’ve got to build on that.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports