SUNRISE, FL As one might expect after another discouraging loss, it wasnt a pretty postgame picture in the Bruins' dressing room Thursday night at the BankAtlantic Center.
The Bruins once again buckled under the first signs of adversity. A bad cross-checking call against Shawn Thornton led to a Florida power-play goal, and then the roof caved in. The Bs sound defense and elite goaltending, once their bedrock, again deserted them at the worst time.
The final score was 6-2 in favor of the Panthers, who have quietly crept to within two points of the Bs for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. And the game was just as hopelessly one-sided as the scoreboard suggested.
Tim Thomas let in four goals on the first 17 shots he faced, and was betrayed by a defense that couldnt get out of its own way against an onslaught of Florida attackers.
Zdeno Chara snapped far too many breakout passes straight down the middle of the ice that turned into offensive chances for Florida.
There were far too many breakdowns from old reliables like Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference.
All the Bs defensemen look exhausted, injured or perhaps a little bit of both. That, and the inability to stick to the team's once-airtight defensive system, has led to 36 goals allowed in nine games during the month of March, including 12 in back-to-back losses in the state of Florida (6-1 to the Lightning on Tuesday, 6-2 to the Panthers on Thursday).
The Bruins look nothing like a Claude Julien-coached team, and thats a very bad thing indeed.
It was basically a whole team collapse tonight, said Julien in a sentence that could sum up the last two months. We do have some guys that are tired, and we have some guys that arent playing up to par. Weve got lots of games and we have to fight our way through it. You cant throw your arms up in the air. Youve got to fight through it.
So now the Bruins are one point ahead of the hard-charging Ottawa Senators in the division, two points ahead of the Panthers, and theyve won exactly five regulation games since the beginning of February.
The Bruins emotion, so necessary to their success, is gone. Theyve become the hunted rather than the hunter in the physicality portion of the game, and they look like a team thats been skating Herbies (named in honor of coach Herb Brooks for the suicide skating sprints he put the 1980 US Miracle Team through in practice) for days.
In many ways Thomas has become the fall guy for the Bruins nosedive, based on his decision to skip the White House visit, but the problems -- both with Thomas himself and the team -- had already begun prior to Jan. 23.
Those problems have come to a head during this winless road trip, and Thomas looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders after Thursday's defeat. After yet another horrid outing -- his own, and the team's -- he finally agreed that fatigue was a factor.
It has a lot to do with it . . . yes, said Thomas, who just days ago defiantly insisted that neither he nor his teammates were tired. You can see it in peoples faces.
Thomas has seen a ton of hockey over his 14 years as a professional athlete, and that means hes experienced nearly everything. But the soon-to-be 38-year-old had zero answers on how the Bruins can get out of their 12-16-2 rut of the last 30 games.
Weve done a good job of staying positive and supporting each other, but I dont know what to do. Weve got to figure out something, said Thomas. I dont know if Ive ever been in quite a part of a run like this. Generally you just put it behind you and move on to the next one, but weve done that for a few games in a row. Were stuck in the same place. I dont have any answers.
Chara similarly had no answers and few words. Chara was the captain at the helm when the Bruins hit their high water mark last season in June, and he appears to be the captain on the NHL version of the Titanic this year.
Its tough to describe," he said. "Its tough to find the words for the way were playing. Its everything: offensively and defensively. Were not finding a way to be more creative and effective. The only way we can get out of it is to find the answers in this room and move on to the next one.
We have the tools. We have the talent. We are capable of doing great things. Weve proven it and done it before. Right now we just cant find a way to be effective.
Around the room, the Bruins players dressed quickly and quietly without smiles or conversation. They made no eye contact; indeed, they did little more than study the floor tiles. David Krejci sat in front of his locker stall with his head buried in his hands.
Chara mentioned that the Bruins werent being creative enough when talking about the teams shortcomings, and that spoke to a Bs coaching staff freely admitting they must find a different path to success this time around. Julien said he and his assistants realize the challenge is on them as well as the players to figure something out.
Our team is tired and theyre not playing well, but youve got to fix it somehow said Julien. Theres a lot of thinking to be done. Thats what we do for a living. We have to step up and find a solution as a coaching staff. Thats what we have to do. When you give up 12 goals in two games you need everybody on board.
It better happen quickly, because even the playoffs arent a guarantee if they continue their free-fall.
The Bruins have a chance to use this adversity as fuel to snap them out of their malaise. Or they could become another Stanley Cup champion that fails to make the playoffs the following year.
Nobody knows any more which path the Bruins will eventually, and thats the scary part.