COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Bruins see what Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is doing to them. They are undeterred, despite mounting evidence.
“The secondary saves that he’s making are very impressive but he’s definitely going to crack at some point,” defenseman Brandon Carlo said. “I have a lot of faith we’re going to start putting pucks past him pretty soon.”
Boston did so four times in Game 3 on Tuesday, but Charlie McAvoy and Noel Acciari rang the post. Carlo hit the crossbar. Columbus cashed in twice and won, 2-1, and now leads this second-round series by the same margin.
Bobrovsky, earning the first second-round home win in his team’s 18-year history, let one puck cross the line. Jake DeBrusk scored late in the second period, and the Bruins put on a frenzied push for the tying goal with Tuukka Rask (32 saves on 34 shots) out of his cage in the final minutes.
But the athletic ace at the other end stopped 36 of 37, moving side to side with the ease of a table hockey goalie, and the Blue Jackets’ beloved cannon blasted the Bruins off the ice after the final buzzer. Nationwide Arena will load it up again for Game 4 on Thursday.
Boston again lost the special teams battle by a slim margin. They went 0 for 2 on the power play, but allowed one on the penalty kill (2 for 3). Columbus enjoyed its most significant edge in the hits department (53-28). Coach Bruce Cassidy took issue with none of them.
“I don’t think there’s anything going on out there that’s not hard, playoff hockey,” he said.
Witness, for example, a hard-luck sequence involving David Pastrnak. Midway through the second period, the 37-goal scorer’s left leg twisted awkwardly behind him when defenseman Dean Kukan rubbed him out along the boards. Pastrnak labored as he left the ice, grimaced on the bench, and finished the game.
“I’m just trying to stay with it and battle,” said Pastrnak, who has scored once in the last six playoff games. “It’s tough. I don’t really want to talk about myself. It’s a team sport. I’m doing my best.”
Top-line cohort Brad Marchand, who drew the ire of Columbus with an uncalled head punch to a prone Scott Harrington, is on a four-game drought. Patrice Bergeron hasn’t scored in three games.
Pastrnak, dropped to the third line to start, was back with those two to start the third period. He landed his first shot attempt of the night 2:53 into the frame. Columbus mugged the sniper most times he was near the puck.
His backhand bid on a bouncing puck with 3:55 left was his best chance. Bobrovsky, who had fans chanting, “Bob! Bob! Bob!” didn’t struggle to foil him. With the Bruins scrambling, McAvoy, Boston’s best player on Tuesday, fought off the entire Union Army to keep possession. He found Pastrnak, who whipped a pass through the middle. Columbus picked it off.
Bobrovsky robbed Bergeron with 1:01 left, sliding to his right to snuff a redirect off a Torey Krug slap-pass. Stuff like that gave the Bruins hope.
“I think we had enough looks to win,” Cassidy said. “Clearly we’d love to get into the slot more. We did a much better job in the third. We were more desperate.”
They looked confident at the outset, all four lines pressuring against a sluggish CBJ start. McAvoy — whom Cassidy called “dominant” — hit the post 3:36 into the affair, and the Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle connection forced Bobrovsky to make a toe save.
But Columbus killed a Boston power play with ease, and the Bruins allowed the game’s first goal for the first time this series. Fourth-liner Boone Jenner worked rookie blue liner Connor Clifton on the rush. Jenner self-passed to the slot to escape coverage, then shot against the grain to beat Rask at 18:37 of the first.
Bobrovsky kept the Bruins off the board for most of the second, despite his teammates looking sloppy at times in their end. They lifted him with a stellar performance on the power play.
Marchand was sent off for high-sticking Jenner at 10:49 of the period. Columbus put on a clinic, making Bruins penalty killers and Rask weary by holding the puck the whole time. With seven seconds left in the man-up, Game 2 double-OT hero Matt Duchene banged home a rebound to make it 2-0.
“We didn’t get a clear on the PK,” Cassidy said. “We had it three or four times. You’re going to pay the price.”
The Bruins cut the lead in half on DeBrusk’s goal before intermission. The sophomore winger, challenged by Cassidy to get to the net, brought it there and pushed it home with 40 seconds left.
The Bruins played desperate in the third, which saw more outstanding work from McAvoy (team-high 23:56 of ice time). Working the offensive zone on one shift, he created chances for Acciari (hit post) and Joakim Nordstrom (whiffed on a cross-ice feed). McAvoy landed more hits (five) than any other Bruin and put nine attempts toward goal, landing two.
The Bruins had a golden chance at 11:18 of the third, when Marchand drew a trip on David Savard. But 16 seconds into the penalty, Josh Anderson broke in on Rask. Bergeron, whose trip in Game 2 gave Columbus the winning power play, committed another one.
It was indeed light, but like his double-OT trip on Seth Jones in Game 2, it didn’t matter. Bergeron’s stick was wrong place, wrong time.
Bobrovsky, as he was the previous contest, was almost always in the right spot. He wasn’t alone. The Bruins practice on Wednesday, hoping to find ways to solve Bob and even this series.
“We’ve had some great opportunities today throughout all three periods to put pucks behind him,” said Carlo, the true believer. “Credit to him today, but overall, I don’t think it’s going to last.”
If it does last, the Bruins won’t.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports