The Boston Bruins had one of their more historic starts in franchise history during the first two months of the season. Recent history, however, hasn’t been too kind to them.
Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning extended Boston’s skid to a season-high five-straight games. To put that in perspective, the Bruins last lost five in a row in the second to last year of the Claude Julien era back in March of 2016.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad couldn’t have asked for a better start with Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron attempting to lead by example. Chara’s fight with Patrick Maroon and Bergeron’s second goal in his third game back from injury gave the Bruins some early momentum in the opening stanza.
The Lightning pushed back, and the Bruins couldn’t answer Tampa’s potent attack both at even strength and special teams. A pair of tallies from Steven Stamkos and another power play tally from Brayden Point placed a struggling Bruins squad behind the proverbial 8-ball in the second and third periods.
John Moore, fresh off a two-penalty night, cut the lead to one after Stamkos’ second tally. The slumping Bruins, however, lacked urgency in the final minutes to top off another frustrating loss.
“We had our moments,” Cassidy told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley, “but other moments we had to be better.”
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins’ Atlantic Division lead over second-place Buffalo now sits in single digits.
Chara and Bergeron tried to set a tone
The Bruins had issues starting on time prior to their five-game skid. They’ve at least put a band-aid on their opening period woes over after scoring first in Washington and Tampa on back-to-back nights.
The noteworthy opening highlights from Thursday’s tilt against last year’s President’s Trophy winners came from two of Boston’s leaders at a much-needed time.
The first moment came just 27 seconds in when Chara dropped the gloves for a second straight night in a spirited exchange with Patrick Maroon.
Bergeron followed suit just 3:59 later after banking home a rebound on Brad Marchand’s wrap-around attempt.
The Bruins hoped that they’d sustain momentum from the emotional lift from the 6-foot-9 captain and three-time Selke winner. But costly mistakes and a lack of secondary scoring from the second, third and fourth lines reared their ugly head again.
Lightning struck on Boston’s special teams
An early-season formula for success has turned into a liability as of late.
A once potent Bruins power play failed to light the lamp in two attempts. And, like Wednesday’s 0-for-5 showing in DC, they had a chance to at least shift momentum in a 2-1 hockey game on their second chance with the man advantage in Tampa. Instead, Stamkos quickly fired his second tally of the game shortly after the Bruins failed to register a single shot on net with their last PP chance.
The other half of the special teams weren’t so special either. Boston’s penalty kill left Tuukka Rask out to dry twice in pivotal moments.
Their first lapse in judgment came when they left a dynamic scorer like Stamkos all alone in the slot for a prime scoring chance. The Bolts captain didn’t waste any time tying things up with his 12th goal of the season at 12:35 of the middle stanza.
Rask tried to bail the Bruins out on the PK with his highlight-reel save on reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov in the third.
Boston’s shorthanded unit failed to clear the puck out of the zone in the ensuing moments following Rask’s save, thus leading to Brayden Point’s go-ahead tally 4:07 into the final stanza.
Four of Boston’s regular shorthanded personnel served penalties. Moore, in his fourth game back since returning from a lingering shoulder injury, went to the penalty box twice — both on tripping calls — with his second penalty leading to Stamkos’ power-play tally.
“I take responsibility. I tried to go stick on puck there in the second. I’m better than that,” Moore said about his frustrating night. “I pride myself on being a good PK’er and when I’m in the box, that’s not going to help the team. So, I’ve got to be better.”
Moore had a measure of redemption after tallying his first goal of the season just 1:32 after Stamkos’ second goal of the night. If only the Bruins could’ve had more urgency from other members of their roster.
The middle of the lineup conundrum continues
Cassidy flipped his second and third-line wingers Anders Bjork and Brett Ritchie in the latter moments of Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Caps. In another attempt to find a spark outside of the top line, the fourth-year Bruins bench boss mixed and matched his lines again in Tampa.
Ritchie, again, started with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on Thursday. Like Wednesday, Ritchie didn’t end the night with the two second-line forwards.
Charlie Coyle took the final shifts with DeBrusk and Krejci in the ongoing second line carousel. Chris Wagner, moving from wing to center, filled in next to Bjork and Danton Heinen on Coyle’s usual third-line center spot.
Of course, Cassidy isn’t shy to change his lineup at any given moment. He’ll even break up the potent top trio of Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak if he has to, in an attempt to generate scoring balance throughout the lineup.
The Bruins’ lineup carousel continues its slow ride as Don Sweeney ponders over potential trade deadline targets like Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Tyler Toffoli.
Their other in-house options, like David Backes — a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game — aren’t a long term fix. Moving Coyle to wing with Krejci and DeBrusk and recalling Jack Studnicka could help in the short-term. Yet, the Bruins likely want to have Studnicka playing top-line minutes at the AHL level over shortening his ice time in a third-line role.
Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak each found the scoresheet in the last three games. The Bruins could’ve earned at least a point or two with added secondary scoring. Now they’re just hoping to salvage their road trip on the final stop of their four-game swing on Saturday night against the Panthers in South Florida.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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