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  • What we learned: Caps cut off Bruins at the rusty overpass

    Tim Rosenthal February 11, 2023

    The returning Boston Bruins expected to encounter the usual rust reserved for a 10-day layover against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. And indeed, they showcased some rusty tendencies yet remained within striking distance throughout Saturday’s matinee at TD Garden.

    Amid a frustrating officiating night, the Bruins found themselves in catchup mode after Nicklas Backstrom capitalized on a 5-on-3 opportunity in the opening frame following a stretch of three penalties called within a 28-second frame.

    Regardless of the calls — and noncalls — the Bruins couldn’t quite match the desperation on Washington’s side. The B’s faced a 2-0 deficit following Garnet Hathaway’s second-period marker off a Jakub Lauko turnover at Boston’s defensive blue line.

    Nick Foligno cut the deficit in half late in the middle frame with his eighth goal of the season.

    The Bruins slowly found their rhythm in the final 20-plus minutes. Yet, they developed a habit of passing up quality scoring chances, instead opting to make the perfect play.

    Despite generating quality possession time in the attacking end, the Bruins couldn’t deliver another triumphant third-period moment. Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 2-1 setback on Saturday afternoon against the equally rusty Caps.

    Boston’s overpassing trend continued.

    The Bruins have provided their fair share of highlight-reel markers throughout their torrid run through early February. From thrilling game-winning tallies to dazzling dekes and everything in between, Jim Montgomery’s squad stormed to the top of the league standings behind a well-rounded offensive machine and an equally impressive defensive system.

    But they’ve hit a bit of a wall over the last five games. Saturday marked Boston’s fourth loss over the stretch.

    The Bruins stopped that habit against the Leafs during their 5-2 win on Feb. 2, their last game before the All-Star break. But, following a 10-day layover, the overpassing habit on Saturday.

    “I just think in general — not even tonight, but lately — we have to have that playoff mentality where [we’re getting] pucks to the net and bodies to the net, and creating havoc out there,” forward Brad Marchand said. “You usually don’t score those highlight-reel goals come playoff time, and you don’t want to pass up the opportunity.”

    It’s not like the Bruins always opted for the perfect play. They developed a decent north-south attacking strategy, making simpler plays through the neutral zone instead of opting for lengthy stretch passes in transition.

    Heck, their only goal from Saturday came from Foligno’s gritty doorstep marker. But instead of building off that blue-collar work ethic, the Bruins continued to pass up opportunities.

    Trent Frederic and Taylor Hall were two of the first guilty culprits after passing up respective one-timer and slot bids. Come their last 6-on-4 power play attempt in the closing moments in regulation, David Pastrnak passed on firing his patented one-timer and instead looked for one of the Bruins in front of Darcy Kuemper’s crease for a tip-in bid.

    Perhaps the Bruins will establish more effective offensive habits during their upcoming two-game trip to Dallas and Nashville. Yet, they’ll only face stiffer and more desperate competition moving forward.

    The Bruins couldn’t match Washington’s desperation.

    The Capitals entered Saturday with a slim one-point lead over the Islanders and a two-point advantage over the Panthers for the final wild-card position. They’ll likely continue fighting for their playoff lives through the rest of the 2022-23 season.

    Of Boston’s final 30 games, 14 will involve a fellow team who currently sits in one of the 16 playoff spots. They’ll also have six games against teams who are currently within four points of a wild-card berth.

    “The thing we’re starting to see now is that teams are fighting for their lives, and there’s a lot of desperation. And I think it’s only going to get amplified,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to have to start matching that. And that’s the thing that concerns me about this game and a little bit of what we saw before the All-Star break.”

    Granted, their fourth loss in five games came after a 10-day layover. And while the Bruins eventually found their skating legs, they couldn’t match Washington’s desperation.

    With such a significant target following an otherworldly run, Patrice Bergeron and the battle-hardened Bruins expect. And with the Hurricanes now hot on their heels in the league standings, they embrace the difficult road ahead.

    “For us, we want to keep getting better. There’s more of a bigger picture down the road, and we know that teams are waiting for us and want to give us our best. And I think that’s a good challenge,” Bergeron said. “We can’t let our guards down, and keep getting better as a team and learn from the experiences that are going to be thrown our way.”

    Marchand sounded off on “chintzy” calls.

    Officiating any sport remains a thankless job. On their best nights, referees receive little to no praise from any given fanbase. And every off night is met with its chorus of boos and scorn throughout a venue.

    Every officiating mistake is only magnified with the advent of social media. On Saturday, the four-person crew featuring referees Chris Lee and Jon McIassac and linesmen Devin Berg and Shandor Alphonso delivered a handful of borderline calls.

    Marchand visibly showcased his frustration at the men in stripes, beginning in the first period after he skated to the penalty box for a slash during a first-period scrum in front of Kuemper. During that sequence, the veteran winger and 2006 third-round selection felt the brunt of an Evgeni Kuznetsov cross-check.

    The officials sent Kuzentsov and Marchand to the box. The Bruins then had their power play negated four seconds later following a hooking call on Charlie Coyle.

    Within a 28-second timespan, the Bruins went from having a potential two-man advantage to a two-man disadvantage after Lindholm went to the box for interference a mere 24 seconds after Coyle’s hook.

    Washington capitalized on the first-period opportunity, with Backstrom converting on the 5-on-3 for his second goal of the season. And an irked Marchand shared a rather unique term as he shared his thoughts on the officiating.

    “Either you call everything chintzy like they did on C.C. [Coyle] and Linder [Lindholm], or they let it all go,” Marchand said. “It can’t be half and half through the game. Guys have no idea what they can and can’t do, and that’s part of it.”

    This wasn’t an isolated incident. Saturday continued the trend of another rough year throughout the officiating ranks.

    The inconsistent approach led to more head-scratching calls on both ends of the ice. And one can argue the Bruins benefitted from some of the questionable officiating decisions during their 82-game slate.

    Given the layover and the ongoing power play concerns, the Bruins may have faced a similar result on Saturday if they found themselves on the other side of the officiating pendulum. And while Marchand wouldn’t ever stoop to laying the blame solely on any officiating crew, he couldn’t help but acknowledge the latest frustrating round of calls.

    “They called a really suspect call on Coyle early in the game. If you’re going to call it like that, then you can’t call some of the stuff that they let go. And that’s just part of the problem. The whole year has been really inconsistent,” Marchand said. “It has nothing to do with the outcome of the game, but they had a tough night.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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