Bruins can't overcome 'atrocious' 2nd period vs. Habs

Bruins can't overcome 'atrocious' 2nd period vs. Habs
December 6, 2013, 9:45 am
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MONTREAL – Claude Julien used the words “atrocious”, “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” to describe the second period of Thursday night’s 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and his incredulity was more than appropriate after the Bruins let one get away.

The Bruins were up 1-0 headed into the second period, and had managed to take a lead despite having watched longtime defenseman Johnny Boychuk go down with a scary-looking back injury five minutes into the game. But things felt apart quickly after that as the Canadiens outshot the B’s by an 18-6 margin in the second period, and swarmed the Boston net until they’d pushed a couple of pucks past Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins coach saw a team lose their willingness to battle, and fail to properly push a Habs team that was forced into a shootout 24 hours earlier in New Jersey before traveling home for the back-to-back.

“The second period was atrocious,” said Julien, matter-of-factly following the loss to Montreal. “It was unacceptable. There are no excuses about playing with five defensemen. We have to look in the mirror.”

It was disappointing the Black and Gold couldn’t string together three solid periods of hockey in a game against Montreal with first place on the line. It was astonishing the Bruins couldn’t push a Canadiens team over the edge that was playing their sixth game in nine days, and finishing up a run of three games in four days. Fatigue and heavy legs should have been the order of the day for Montreal late in the game, but instead it was the Bruins that looked to be accepting a lower standard of play on far too many occasions.

For long stretches of the night the Habs had the better skating legs than the Bruins, who were coming off four practice days preparing for a big divisional game they ultimately fell flat in.

“What’s the most frustrating right now is that we played the first and the third [periods] pretty much exactly the way we wanted to play them,” said Milan Lucic. “You look at the second period, and it was the Jekyll and Hyde thing. It all started with us losing puck battles and puck races, and they’re a really good team. We played with fire in the second period, and we got burned as a result of it.”

So now the Bruins have played the Canadiens in five straight regular season games for first place in the division, and lost four of those five games while failing to excel in the frenetic environment at the Bell Centre. Some players like Lucic and Zdeno Chara had pretty good nights in the building where they’ve become sworn enemies of the home franchise, but other players like Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg didn’t look very comfortable with their first taste of the rivalry.

Soderberg took a bad cross-checking penalty at the offensive blue line in the second period when Alexei Emelin was approaching for a hit, and Eriksson literally did nothing in 17:22 of ice time. He was a non-factor on offense, and several times the Swedish forward just weakly gave up the puck once he started feeling pressure from the Habs attack.

Perhaps most concerning of all was Tuukka Rask, who dropped to 2-9-2 in his career against the Montreal Canadiens after entering the game with a 2.83 goals against average and .901 save percentage in 14 games against the Habs. The Washington Capitals are the only Eastern Conference team that consistently gives Rask more trouble than the Habs, and the B’s goaltender was blaming himself, in part, for the second period letdown.

The Tomas Plekanec goal off the cross-ice pass for Montreal’s first score was from a bad angle to the side of the net, and Rask chastised himself for “giving him too much to shoot at” while being off his angles.

“Goals get scored. But if you look at the way we played the second period, you can’t be happy with that,” said Rask. “It’s just weird how we do it sometimes. We turn it on and off like that. I felt like they had a couple of shots, and I gave them some rebounds there.

“They didn’t score, but they got the crowd into it and went from there. You always want to play a perfect game as a goalie and not give them an inch, but I think they got a little too much momentum going into the second period.”

Clearly it’s just one loss and the Bruins have a couple of games in hand on the Canadiens when push truly comes to shove in the Atlantic Division standings. But as the commercial goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression even if the two longtime rivals play each other umpteen times a season.

Montreal’s first impression of the Bruins clearly didn’t seem to leave them in too much awe as both teams seem to understand there will be plenty of old school battles between the Habs and Bruins before the year is out. They need more of the first and third period edition of the B's from Thursday night, and  much less of the lacking middle 20 minutes.

It’s up to Boston to show up much better than they did on Thursday night, particularly in a second period that Julien wants to be immediately expunged from the annals of B’s/Habs history.