PHILADELPHIA – It felt like it had been building for some time, as the Bruins have wavered somewhere between exhausted warriors, unmotivated hockey club, and the team everybody expects to see over the last couple of months amid an admittedly tough schedule.
Unfortunately for the Black and Gold it’s been much more of the first two -- and not enough of the last -- as they stagger toward the postseason.
Were there some games when the B’s had a legitimate excuse for subpar effort while they were playing out a 33-game schedule during the months of March and April?
Of course. But after a while, excuses about fatigue and tired legs become something underperforming players can't hide behind.
“These last three games (coming up), we need a wakeup call mentally," said coach Claude Julien. "We need to be willing to do the stuff that’s given us success. We’re willing to do it some of the time, but we’re not willing to do it all the time. Let’s stay away from excuses because it’s not going to work. Excuses are a lot of BS right now.
“We have to take the responsibly and quit hiding behind those excuses because [talking about fatigue] is a load of crap.”
A calm, but angry Bruins coach clearly unloaded both barrels on his disappointing hockey club after they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night. The defeat was to a Flyers club that’s sporting a glorified AHL lineup along defense due to injuries, and will be busy scheduling tee times by this time next week while the Bruins are prepping for a postseason.
But none of Philly's problems mattered to the Bruins, who made soft play after soft play in turning pucks over in their own that led to three goals. Julien tried to exert some tough love: Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin were benched for the entire second half of the second period including a long stretch of Boston power play time. Julien yanked Anton Khudobin after the backup goaltender let a flubbed Chara clearing attempt skid right through his pads just seven seconds after the Bruins had given up the lead for good in the second period.
“Too many mistakes,” admitted a frustrated David Krejci, who scored one of two goals for Boston. “Too many turnovers.”
It’s not every day you see Zdeno Chara look slow, confused and mistake-prone with the puck on his stick. But one of the real low points of the season for Boston arrived when he failed that simple D-to-D pass behind his own net. Instead the puck hopped off his stick right toward the front of the net, and trickled on through Khudobin’s leg pads for the year’s most embarrassing goal.
Worse still was Chara’s play in the third period, when he made a waving attempt to clear a puck into the offensive zone from the blue lin and watched as both he and partner Dougie Hamilton allowed Jakub Voracek sneak behind them for a backbreaking score.
“It’s not good enough . . . that’s for sure,” said Chara, who finished with a minus-2 and had three costly giveaways during the deflating defeat. “We just started doing things that we’re not supposed to. They got a little jump from some quick goals, but we shouldn’t force things that we’re not supposed to.”
The Bruins captain wasn’t alone in his D-zone folly, however. Marchand and Krejci both coughed up pucks to players on scoring areas, and both Flyers skaters cashed in on those careless mistakes. The first from Krejci was a gift to Scott Hartnell in the slot just 1:40 into the game, and it immediately put the Bruins into a hole with a 1-0 deficit when the Flyers grinder roofed a shot over Khudobin’s glove hand.
The second Philly goal was a soft play from Marchand in his own zone with Wayne Simmonds simply taking the puck away from on the side boards. That turnover led to a Matt Read rebound goal when he swatted the puck out of the air.
Both Marchand and Seguin didn’t have another shift for the remainder of the second period after the Read goal.
The adjectives “soft”, “crappy” and “poor” rolled off Julien’s tongue as he eviscerated a hockey club that’s developed some troubling patterns over the last couple of years. The Bruins still seem to consider themselves a bunch of Stanley Cup champions two years removed from winning their Cup, but that attitude has allowed complacency to become a very real, lingering problem in their game.
Many of the Bruins players have referenced the Los Angeles Kings in recent weeks, and pointed to a team that caught fire in the playoffs after limping into the postseason as a lowly eight seed.
They certainly have the “inconsistent play during the regular season” part mastered.
“It was really poor puck management and really poor decision-making,” continued Julien in one of his angriest postgame rants of the 2013 season. “That, to me, is a reflection of guys not being ready to play. At a certain point they just have to take the accountability to be ready. We do a lot of work to prepare. This certainly reflects on us as well . . . the coaching staff and everything else.”
The Bruins coach sounded like a guy that isn’t sure his team will be long for the Stanley Cup playoffs after performing such uninspiring hockey with three games left. Nobody should blame him for scaling back his expectations when the Bruins have given few reasons for optimism in the second half of the year.
Unfortunately some of Boston’s best players seem to still think they can simply turn on “playoff mode” like a switch when the postseason begins next week. Julien has coached a lot of playoff teams and he’s won a Cup, and he’s not sure he’s seeing it.
“We’re running out of time here to get this stuff going,” said Julien matter-of-factly. “You always hope this is some sort of a wakeup call, but the way the season has gone you’re questioning whether it will or not. Only time will tell.”
Losing five of six games in the regular season with the playoffs only a week away might end up being a weird little footnote in another great season for the Bruins. But it’s starting to appear a lot more like an early warning sign that the end is near if the Bruins don’t get the softness, poorness and crappiness out of their game quickly.