It is time for the Bruins, in their own words, to wake up.
A game riddled with self-inflicted errors will beat some of the lesser teams on their schedule, as they showed over the last few weeks. It is a losing proposition against the Avalanche.
Colorado, one of three teams to beat Boston in regulation this season, on Saturday became the only team to do it twice. A 4-1 loss proved the Bruins (20-4-6) have a bit of work to do in the urgency department. Even while they were building an eight-game win streak late last month, they recognized their game was a bit too soft and fuzzy.
“We got away with it for a while here,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team took its first regulation loss at home all season (now 12-1-5), and its first 60-minute defeat in a month. They banked enough points to open up a 15-point lead over second place in the Atlantic Division (now 13, after Florida won Saturday).
“Good for us, right? It’s a results-oriented business,” Cassidy said. “But against the better teams, at some point, they will close out games. Tonight, great example of that.”
With Patrice Bergeron out of action — he missed his seventh game in a row — the NHL’s best three-man forward line is without question Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. They have speed, size, and snarl, and they were dangerous every time on the ice, just as they were when the Bruins took a 4-2 loss in Denver on Oct. 10.
The Bruins were welcoming hosts to the Avalanche, now 12-0-2 in their last 14 games in Boston. After Chris Wagner, part of a fourth line that matched up against Colorado’s top trio, scored the opening goal on a deflection at 13:14 of the first, the Avs potted the rest.
Bruins mistakes went up on the scoreboard. With 2:35 left in the first, Colorado forwards Matt Nieto and Val Nichushkin went hard to the net, and Nichushkin dragged a backhander around Jaroslav Halak (16 saves on 19 shots).
The Bruins’ inability to clear the zone led to defenseman Ian Cole teeing up a slapper for a 2-1 goal at 9:17 of the second. The Avs worked the perimeter, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen unable to get it back, and Cole hammered one far side.
An opportunistic Andre Burakovsky put the visitors up by two goals with 1:39 remaining in the second. Burakovsky, who scored the dagger in the previous meeting, took a chip from MacKinnon and raced up the wing. Charlie McAvoy offered a bit too much help for partner Matt Grzelcyk, leaving Burakovsky open to zip a drag-snapshot underneath Halak’s glove.
That came after some of the best opportunities of the night for Boston, which held possession in the Avs’ zone for more than a minute. They pushed hard in the third, out-chancing the visitors, 13-3, and held a 31-7 shot attempts edge in the period, but that just pushed the overall shots on goal totals to 20-20.
They were playing from behind, for most of the night . . . again.
“We tend to be much better when we’re behind,” Brad Marchand said. “It’s a bit of a wakeup call. We need that from the first shift of the first period. If we want to win, be a good team, and have a chance in playoffs, we have to do that all game long.
“It’s tough. The season gets long. It’s no excuse. . . . It’s a good game to realize we’re not going to continue to win like that.
“It’s good to lose every now and again, then right the ship. Maybe that’s this game.”
The Bruins will look inward Sunday, before visiting Ottawa on Monday, the start of a four-game Eastern road trip (Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida).
Their power play, which went 0 for 3 on Saturday, hasn’t scored in three games and is 1 for 15 in its last six.
The goal droughts of Boston’s top scorers are creeping up. David Pastrnak, stuck on 25 goals, is still five ahead of Alex Ovechkin for the league lead. But he has zeroes in his last three. Marchand (five games without a goal), Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork (six each), and Charlie McAvoy (0 for 30 this season) would like that feeling again.
After Wagner opened the scoring by tipping a John Moore point drive (credit Bjork for strong work on the walls to set it up), returning winger Brett Ritchie had a golden chance to make it 2-0. He sailed a wrister wide left on a clean break-in, one of 15 attempts that missed the net.
The Avs also blocked 21 shots, including three in the game’s final two minutes with the Bruins on a 6-on-4 power play. Landeskog, who high-sticked Pastrnak to create the man-up chance, cashed a long-distance empty-netter with three seconds left.
Another example of playing with fire against a dangerous team: To start the second period, Wagner won the opening faceoff against Landeskog, but McAvoy iced the puck. Working out of their own zone, the Bruins allowed the MacKinnon unit three shots and a line change before getting out of the zone.
“If we’re on our toes,” Cassidy said, “we’re cleaner. We’ve got to wake up . . . and live with the result. Doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because of our lack of urgency.”
Marchand called Colorado a “dominant team, especially that one line,” but said the Bruins are right there with them.
Or should have been, anyway.
“We were all over them in the third period. We’re not going to sit here and say they’re a better team than us, but they had a better game than we did,” he said. “If we are going to compete with them, we have to be better than we were tonight.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.