After an 11-day and six-game road trip that ended with a 4-2 record, the Bruins returned to TD Garden Monday night for the stretch run in February followed by the last full month of the regular season. The road slate improved to an impressive 20-7-3.
With six of the next seven games – and eight of the next 10 — on home ice, it would figure that public opinion about solidifying a playoff spot these next two weeks would be unanimous. Not this season. The team’s woefully opposite 12-14-3 record on Causeway Street gives ongoing cause for concern that any final playoff talk might wait until the first days of April – when Boston plays its last three at home to end the season.
Back to Monday night vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets who the Bruins dispatched last week in OT, 2-1.
With Brad Marchand notching his career-high 30th goal Saturday night at Dallas in a convincing 7-3 win — along with linemate Patrice Bergeron’s 600th career point — and all the deserved hype of the first annual “First Responder Night,” all was in place for two points and some distance in the standings between the playoff-hopeful Bruins and those teams nipping in the rear of the standings.
“First game at home is going to be a tough one,” Claude Julien said after morning skate.
Indeed, it was – against the second-worst team in the conference. Here’s what we learned in the 6-4 loss that pushed the Black and Gold to three games under .500 at home.
Seesaw scoring from start to finish
Boone Jenner scored at 10:52 of the first period. Loui Eriksson responded 19 seconds later. Jenner’s second just 21 seconds into the middle stanza was offset by a Matt Beleskey tally 2:36 later. Then two Blue Jackets’ goals to close out the second period pushed Boston into a two-goal deficit into the final 20 minutes.
The Bruins were 3-13-1 when trailing after two; the Jackets 14-1-2 when leading after two.
Beleskey tipped a Kevan Miller shot past Korpisolo at 2:52 for his second of the night and 11th of the season to cut the Blue Jackets lead to one at 4-3. Joe Morrow also assisted.
Brandon Saad completed a passing clinic at 14:29 to put Boston back in the two-goal hole before Claude Julie pulled Jonas Gustavsson with three minutes left. That goal also survived the second goaltender-interference challenge of the game when it appeared Scott Hartnell shot an errant stick at Gustavsson while passing the puck to Saad.
Eriksson made it interesting when he got Boston to within one at 17:03, but 42 seconds later, Dalton Prout hit the open-netter – and Boston hit the showers.
Julien’s take: “When you give up five goals – whether you’re counting the empty-netter – two of them four-on-threes, I thought we weren’t really good in our own end tonight losing some battles and that kind of stuff.”
Gustavsson gets stuffed
At 10-4-1 with a 2.53 GAA, Gustavsson got the call between the pipes. With his 15 starts, management had already significantly lowered the playing load of Tuukka Rask who appeared in 72 games last year. He’d been in 43 so far with 23 to go.
Gustavsson struggled. At 2-2-0 career against the Blue Jackets and a 2.22 GAA, Jenner’s tallies came on the Blue Jackets’ first 15 shots. Add a Columbus post-dinger and it could have been 3-2 midway in the game. Which it did shortly after when William Karlsson scored unassisted at 10:17 – with no Bruin defenseman within 10 feet. The period ended with a 4-2 advantage on a Scott Hartnell goal at 17:21.
One more past Gustavsson in the third and it was a long night for Boston’s backup who wasn’t backed up with much help.
“I think defensively we failed tonight to do a good job there,” Julien said postgame in an understatement. “Mentally some of the decision-making tonight defensively was not good enough.”
“I think we worked hard,” Gustavsson summed. “We scored four goals, and for myself, I have to find a way to make one more save.”
Good timing, eh?
Is Eriksson staking his last claim to a contract extension? Boston’s first goal by Eriksson came off a blast from the point by Torey Krug 11:07 into the game. The goal survived a goaltender interference challenge by Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella. Replay showed Eriksson’s skate being forced into the crease and skate of Korpisalo. The tally marked Eriksson’s seventh goal in his last nine games.
Then his second of the game at 17:03 of the third period made it eight in nine games
“I haven’t really focused on everything around – the things that are going around right now with the team and the trade deadline and everything,” Eriksson offered. “I’m just trying to focus on my game and try to play good.”
Three’s a crowd
The Bruins entered Monday night as the first team in the NHL this season with three 20-goal scorers in Marchand, Bergeron (22) and Loui Eriksson (21).
Trade deadline six days away
“We like it here in Boston – my family and everything,” Eriksson said about his career-impacting week ahead. “Like I said, we’ll see what happens here in the future, and like I said, I like it here.”
Monday night marked the stretch run to the 3:00 pm February 29 trade deadline. Aside from a likely major announcement about extending Eriksson’s contract, look for Don Sweeney and company to snooze through these next several days.
Wednesday, Sid the Kid and the resurgent Penguins come to town as the season countdown continues.
When pressed to comment on the glaring record discrepancy at home and away, Julien said: “Well let’s talk about that after the Pittsburgh game. If it’s the same thing, I’ll be more than happy to answer that. We’re certainly trying to get better there and hopefully by the next game against Pittsburgh we’ll be able to answer that hopefully in a positive way.”
“As a professional,” Beleskey said, “this should be where you want to play – at home – and I think we just need to get that groove going and start rolling with it.”
There are only 11 home games left to start any grooves or rolls.