Haggerty: Third-period collapses a harsh reality for Bruins

Haggerty: Third-period collapses a harsh reality for Bruins
March 20, 2013, 1:45 am
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WINNIPEG – Once is an aberration. Twice might be a coincidence. Three times could be the start of a trend.

But the Bruins simply wasted their fourth third-period lead in less than a month – and their fifth overall this season – while dropping a 3-1 gut punch loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

The Bruins were an amazing 32-0-0 when leading a game after two periods last season, and back then had opponents believing the game was already over before suiting up for the final 20 minutes. But third-period collapses in the month of March to the Canadiens, Capitals, Penguins and, now, the Jets instead have the Black and Gold scouring for answers amid the rubble of another haunting defeat pulled from the jaws of victory.

“We’ve talked about it and it’s just not good enough right now,” said Tuukka Rask. “We can’t give up those goals in the third period. We also need to score more than one goal to win these games.”

This time around it wasn’t quite the epic fold of a three-goal lead like on the road in Washington.

But once again the B’s skaters seemed to lose their composure at the worst possible time in the final minutes of the game. Up by a single goal after dominating for better than 40 minutes things started to unravel when Jordan Caron took an unnecessary hooking penalty on a play where Zdeno Chara was backing him up with support.

That mental error was all it took to pretty much unleashed hell on the Bruins. Blake Wheeler stepped in front of a Zach Bogosian shot on the ensuing power play to tip it past Tuukka Rask, and the Jets had snapped a string of 27 straight power play kills for the Boston PK unit.

That Wheeler goal got the loud Winnipeg home crowd involved in the game, and apparently unnerved some of the Bruins players.

“This crowd can get very loud and we allowed them to get into it when they scored a power play goal. It probably shouldn’t have, but that backed us onto to our heels a little bit there. They came right back with another goal that we couldn’t stop,” said Brad Marchand. “Being strong in the third period has always been a big part of our game, and we need to get back to that.

“[Blowing a third period lead] can’t happen.”

Boston went right in the panic tank and did little to stop the Jets as they scored the go-ahead goal just 57 seconds later.

Grant Clitsome fired a shot through traffic that Rask lost track of in his equipment, and the puck squirted free when Rask moved his pads to gain his bearings in the crease. There wasn’t a single Bruins defender in sight aside from Patrice Bergeron, who was buried by Nik Antropov in front of the net as an uncovered Evander Kane flipped the puck into the open area.

Wheeler added an empty net goal for insurance purposes, but it just felt like a game that the Bruins weren’t coming back in either way. Claude Julien was most displeased with the Kane goal scored by Winnipeg for the game-winner, and that’s not surprising with so much to dislike.

“[It was] extremely disappointing. For 2 ½ periods we did great job, but to give them that [second] goal shouldn’t be acceptable from our end,” said Claude Julien. “We need to be more composed in those areas. I really didn’t like that second goal. In my mind there is no way that should have gone in.

“We should be better than that. It’s very disappointing."

When Julien was prompted to explain exactly what it was that he didn’t like about the goal, the Bruins coach said he needed to review the video. But there were a number of troubling things about that second goal allowed to the Jets before or after the coach’s video session.  

Of course, it would have been nice had Rask been able to simply freeze the puck for a whistle with so much chaos swirling around him. But the defensive coverage in front of the Boston net was a real issue with both Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference nowhere near the cage as Winnipeg attackers buzzed around the joint.

That meant there was nobody in a Black and Gold jersey to sweep any loose pucks away from the front of the net toward the harmless corner where Boston could re-group.

Instead the Jets scored three unanswered goals, and the Bruins were left to wonder how much worse things can get for a team that’s had a pretty easy go of it thus far this hockey season.

With Chris Kelly and David Krejci both missing from the lineup, goals and finished offensive plays become more difficult to come by. That was apparent with Boston only getting one score past Ondrej Pavelec. They shook their collective heads as he stoned Patrice Bergeron in the first period with a dazzling glove save, and muttered under their breath when he managed to snuff out Zdeno Chara’s backdoor power play bid in the third.

The third period has always been winning time for the deep Bruins over the years: they could simply wear opponents down with wave after wave of attack from their forward lines. But Boston is essentially now a two-forward-line team at this point with little production being generated by the third and fourth line on a consistent basis.

That takes away one of the biggest pieces of the B’s identity during their Stanley Cup season, and empty-handedly replaces it with uncertainty and worry that another third period collapse always lurks around the corner.

Now things could get dicey on defense as well with Adam McQuaid down and potentially out with a left shoulder injury after crashing into the boards awkwardly on his first shift of the game.

The Bruins players are under no illusions. They know that they twice missed a chance to overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Eastern Conference’s top spot last week, and now they’ve wasted a chance on Tuesday night to pull into a tie with the Canadiens for the Northeast Division lead.

The Bruins have also cashed in nearly all of their games in hand over the other teams in the East, and have very few points to show for it. Good teams are pushing into overtime and shootouts this season despite the circumstances in regulation, and getting points out of games where they probably shouldn’t as nearly ¼ of all NHL games are three point games this season.

In four of the five blown third-period leads this season the Bruins died a regulation death, and failed to withstand the collapse in order to gain a point or two in the extra overtime session. The inability to hang on for overtime/shootout could have an affect when playoff seeding becomes an issue and it’s already being felt midway through the season: an extra four points for overtime losses rather than regulation in the third period meltdowns would have Boston leading the Northeast Division and sitting only a point behind the Penguins.

Instead they’re trailing both Montreal and Pittsburgh, they’ve blown third-period leads in four of their last 10 games and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they need healthy reinforcements as regulation losses begin to stack up.

Those are harsh realities for a Bruins team that might just be forced to face them all as real adversity is hitting for the first time this season.