MONTREAL -- There was clearly a little more frustration than normal in Boston’s dressing room after another tightly contested loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
The Bruins fell, 2-1, at the Bell Centre on Saturday night, their third defeat in a row -- two in regulation, one in a shootout -- to the Canadiens. All four regular-season games against the Habs this season were one-goal affairs, with the B's finishing 1-2-1 against their historic rivals.
And this one followed a familar pattern: Once again, the Bruins had their chances and couldn’t convert. For instance . . .
- Nathan Horton missing wide left on an open net in the second period after a nifty backhanded pass from Milan Lucic.
- Not getting off even a single shot during a 6-on-4 power play for the final 53 seconds of the third period.
That doesn’t even count the startling zero shots on net for Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand during a game where Jaromir Jagr was yanked from their line less than 10 minutes into the first period. With Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup, the Bruins can’t afford any of their big-name forwards operating at anything less than 100 percent efficiency.
“[The Canadiens are] really tight defensively,” said Tuukka Rask, who dropped to 2-8-2 in 13 career games against the Habs. “They’ve gotten a lot better and they still have that offensive talent that you have to respect. It was a battle between two really good teams, but we just came up short."
Daniel Paille scored Boston’s only goal in the second period when a Johnny Boychuk cannon shot blasted off his chest and into the back of the net. The hustling winger had a pair of shots in 17:50 of ice time, but he also finished with 10 seconds more five-on-five ice time than Seguin, and 1:42 more than Marchand, in some curious playing-time allocations.
It might have been nice if the gritty, gutty, bottom-six guys helped the Bruins pull out the victory or even secured an overtime point.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead Montreal opened up a three-point lead on the Bruins in the Northeast Division with little more than three weeks to go in the regular season. There are no more head-to-head meetings between the two clubs.
That means Boston no longer controls its own destiny, and has to hope that the deep, young, talented Habs will endure an extended losing streak before the season is finished.
“There are still 11 games left,” said Milan Lucic. “They have 10 games left. There’s still an opportunity for us if we have a good end to our season, and we can still take the division.”
But taking things one step further, the Bruins are 1-4-1 this year against the Canadiens and Penguins -- the two teams considered to be the Eastern Conference's best. The B's have one more game, on April 19, against the Penguins and their new power forward, Jarome Iginla, in tow, but it appears the pattern has been established, a pattern described by Rask in talking about Saturday night's game:
“The same as a week-and-a-half ago [in their last meeting with Montreal]: Tight game, and we came up short.”
That's how it's gone for the Bruins this year against both Montreal and Pittsburgh. They're close to both in terms of competitive ability, but they’re also clearly not as good in a year where they haven't proven they can beat elite teams.
Sure, each of the five losses to the Habs and Pens (four regulation, one shootout) was by one goal, and those can flip back and fourth depending on the bounce of the puck. But the Black and Gold simply aren’t up to snuff right now against the conference's best, and there’s work to be done if they hope to beat either one in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
There are caveats, of course. Each of the losses has been by one goal. Boston certainly hasn’t been overmatched by either team. And the Bruins have been missing Chris Kelly, Patrice Bergeron and Adam McQuaid for at least a portion of the season series against both clubs, clearly affecting the bottom line.
But the simple truth is: The Bruins haven't been able to beat the teams they need to beat. They'll suffer the same fate in the postseason if they don’t shore up their defensive mistakes, discover line combinations that might work until Bergeron returns, and start working that power play into a viable offensive weapon.
They've got three weeks to make it happen.