BOSTON -- There’s no doubting that events of Wednesday night into Thursday morning might just be the lowest point for the Bruins since they won the Stanley Cup two years ago.
They blew their fifth third-period lead since March 3 -- failing to hold a 4-2 lead at the beginning of the period and a 5-3 advantage with eight minutes left -- and, after giving up the game-tying goal with in the final 10 seconds of regulation, dropped a 6-5 shootout decision to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. The shootout loss dropped them back into second place in the Northeast Division after a one-day stay in the top spot.
But that wasn’t even close to the worst news of the night. That would be the announcement, in the wee hours of Thursday morning, that future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla was going from Calgary to the Pittsburgh Penguins and not Boston . . . despite the fact that, during the course of Wednesday night, reports surfaced that the Bruins had completed a deal for the high-scoring wing, with Alex Khokhlachev, Matt Bartkowski and a first-round pick heading to the Flames.
Instead, Iginla -- who had listed the B's, Penguins, Blackhawks and Kings as the four teams to whom he would approve a trade -- chose to go to the Penguins.
Perhaps it was just about reuniting with his Canadian Olympic buddy Sidney Crosby to create a super team that will be an absolute handful during the Eastern Conference playoffs. Or maybe grizzled veterans like Iginla and Brenden Morrow -- also traded to Pittsburgh this week despite interest from Boston -- were both keeping score during the lockout, and still harbor some hard feelings toward one of the more hawkish owners (Boston's Jeremy Jacobs).
It’s difficult to say for certain until Iginla decides to speak his mind about the decision. But a gut-punch loss to the Habs followed by Iginla tapping the Penguins certainly must have felt like a giant mule kick for the entire Bruins organization.
It’s certainly more painful than the day Tim Thomas decided to skip the White House ceremony honoring their Stanley Cup championship. It’s also worse than the first-round exit to the Washington Capitals in last year’s playoffs, when the season being over seemed more a relief than a bitter pill for a group of exhausted players that needed a break after the previous season's run to the Cup.
It's the kind of 1-2 combination that could send the Bruins reeling if they don’t quickly recover. On the ice, they need to start playing consistent B’s hockey. Off it, the front office needs to jump right back to work, knowing there are still deals to be made and that pieces like Khokhlachev, Bartkowski and Jordan Caron will have value around the league.
Peter Chiarelli is Harvard-educated and one of the best GMs in the NHL, and there’s little doubt he had contingency plans in case the Iginla sweepstakes fell through. They’ve had discussions with the Edmonton Oilers about offensive defenseman Ryan Whitney and a forward (Magnus Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky were prominently discussed). They still have San Jose captain Ryan Clowe as a possibility for the gritty, leadership role on the wing. And Jaromir Jagr and Marty St. Louis are still out there as big-name possibilities as the Bruins search for top-six forwards.
But make no mistake: The Bruins have some work to do. They allowed five goals on 28 shots to the Canadiens Wednesday night and both their goaltending and defense once again looked leaky in moments where they couldn’t make mistakes. Andrew Ference, in particular, had a rough night in what’s been an erratic season for the normally consistent defenseman; he finished with a team-worst minus-3 while getting stuck on ice for three goals against. And it was a delay-of-game penalty on Aaron Johnson for tipping a puck over the glass that ultimately led to Brendan Gallagher’s game-tying, power-play goal with less than nine seconds remaining in the third period.
The Bruins are now 1-3-1 in five games against the Habs and Penguins, and aren’t finding ways to win against the other elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve blown a lot of leads lately and not just to [Montreal] but some other teams,” said Brad Marchand, who potted his 14th goal of the season in the shootout defeat. “It’s definitely frustrating and maybe we’re gripping our sticks a little tight going into the third. We have to do a much better job at preserving a lead and we even got it back there. We got that two-goal lead back again in the third and gave it up a couple of times, so it’s definitely frustrating.”
It was frustrating to Marchand and the Bruins before they found out Iginla had left them at the altar in favor of a 2-3 month stand with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down in Pittsburgh. Now it’s time to regroup, collect their thoughts and move on to Plan B, because things have taken a turn for the surreal in a season that still holds high promise for the Black and Gold.
It will just be a season with Iginla wearing No. 12 for the Black and Yellow of the Penguins rather than the Black and Gold of the Bruins.