DETROIT — The Bruins hoped not to dwell too long on Saturday’s loss to the dismal Panthers. Overanalyzing a stumble in the final week of a playoff-bound season was unnecessary.
After another listless start Sunday — and a lost lead — against another team playing for pride, they have reason to be a bit more concerned.
“Every good chance seems to go in the net lately,” lamented the Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy after his club suffered a 6-3 loss at Little Caesars Arena.
Boston erased a two-goal deficit with three in the second period, but two Detroit goals in eight seconds early in the third pushed the Bruins (47-23-9) toward their third setback in four games, a run in which they have allowed 18 goals.
Jaroslav Halak, who saved 22 shots, was beaten four times on one-timers, and was deep in his net when defenseman Filip Hronek lasered a 33-foot slapper past his glove. His Detroit counterpart, Jimmy Howard, made several point-blank stops in the third, when he was 17 of 17. Howard finished with 31 saves on 34 shots.
For the second time in a week, the Bruins lost a lead in the third period. Since the start of 2010-11, the Bruins have led 300 times after the second period. They have lost just 16 times in regulation, including last Monday in Tampa.
“That was our M.O. all year,” said David Backes, who put Boston up, 3-2, late in the second. “Teams just got suffocated by us in third periods. Even in tie games or down by a goal, we always suffocated teams and made them anxious, then got our goal.”
Jake DeBrusk scored the 25th of his sophomore season and Brad Marchand set a franchise mark for shorthanded goals in a career (26).
The Bruins maintained their 6-point lead on idle Maple Leafs, and will be in Columbus on Monday watching Toronto face the Islanders. The Bruins need 3 points to clinch the home-ice edge in the eventual Boston-Toronto first-round series that begins April 11.
The Red Wings (31-38-10), playoff DNQs for the third consecutive year, won a single game in 13 tries during a four-week stretch in February and March. However, they entered on a 6-1-0 heater, leaving some fans irritated they weren’t in tank mode. Five of those seven games were decided by one goal.
Anthony Mantha, who produced the first hat trick of his four-year career (3-2—5), made sure that wasn’t the case again.
The Wings, bringing heavy forechecking pressure in the first period, cracked the defense pair of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, with Patrice Bergeron trying to support. The puck found its way out front to a lonely Mantha, who snapped his 20th goal of the season under the bar at 10:26.
Unable to capitalize on two subsequent power plays — David Krejci and Backes drew slashing calls — the Bruins went down 2-0 when Mantha beat Halak on the man advantage with one second left in the first period.
“We don’t want to finish like this,” Halak said. “That wasn’t our game. We all know that.”
DeBrusk got one back 2:01 into the second, using his blistering speed. After he carried out of Boston’s zone and dished to Krejci at the far blue line, he hit another gear. The Wings forgot to mark him as he careened toward goal and deposited Krejci’s give-and-go saucer pass behind Howard’s blocker.
After Halak kept it 2-1 by stopping Mantha on a breakaway, McAvoy’s puck-over-glass penalty left the Bruins shorthanded. The Bruins are rarely at a disadvantage when Marchand and Bergeron roll over the boards.
They broke 2-on-1 against Mantha, tying the 6-foot-5-inch winger into knots and leaving Howard no chance. Marchand’s knee-down one-timer, after Bergeron dangled around a sliding Mantha, was the 26th shorthanded goal of his career, surpassing Rick Middleton for most in Bruins history. Marchand tops all active NHLers in SHGs and is tied for 37th all time.
Backes made the most of his opportunity after a line change. With fellow fourth-liner Noel Acciari out for instigating a fight with Luke Witkowski (who dropped Joakim Nordstrom with a heavy blindside shoulder check), Backes found himself on the second trio with Krejci and DeBrusk. Their strong possession work down low set up Kevan Miller’s drive from the point, which Backes tipped home from the high slot for his seventh of the year.
But 1:17 into the third, Mantha made hats fly after a questionable interference call on DeBrusk. Eight seconds later, rookie Taro Hirose, playing in his seventh game after leaving Michigan State, smacked a one-time feed from Andreas Athanasiou and beat Halak for his first NHL goal.
“Maybe we got a little overconfident there,” Marchand said of the third period. “They made some plays, and we were a little loose. Gotta be a little tighter there.”
The Bruins surrendered their fifth goal after Howard stuffed Marchand twice in front, first on a slapper and then on a backhand bid. At the other end, Mantha saucered a feed to Hronek, who scored from the circle.
On the power play with 5:30 left, David Pastrnak animatedly pointed at the goal after believing he had scored. But replays showed he hit the crossbar, leaving the Bruins 0 for 4 on the man-up. Detroit was 2 for 5.
The Bruins went 6-on-5 with four minutes to go, perhaps Cassidy’s most aggressive goalie pull of the season. Mantha’s diving pokecheck set up Dylan Larkin’s empty-netter with 58 seconds left, furrowing brows on the Black-and-Gold bench, in the locker room, and likely, on the plane to Columbus.
“I don’t know if its complacency with being in the playoffs,” Backes said. “I certainly believe there’s momentum that’s carried into the playoffs . . . I think we need to take a step back, take a breath, and know what kind of effort it takes to win in this league.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.