While it’s difficult to take much seriously from each of the last two games when the Bruins clearly weren’t culling more than a grain of care from largely meaningless regular season games against the Wild and Jets, a recurring problem did crop up once again for the Black and Gold over the last week.
In four of their last six games the Bruins have allowed goals in the final two minutes of a period, and by no coincidence Boston has lost four of those six games as they prepare for the playoffs. There were extenuating circumstances, of course, for pretty much all of them. Matt Bartkowski was on the ice for the goal allowed at the end of the first period in Toronto, but he won’t be on the ice for many final minute situations once the playoffs get started.
The Minnesota Wild hit the Bruins for a goal in the final two minutes of the third period after pulling their goalie, but it was a rare imperfect moment where it appeared that selfless players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron were looking for empty net goals rather than setting things up in the defensive zone. Similarly the Bruins gave up a goal in the final couple of minutes of the third period against the Winnipeg Jets, but there was no Chara, no Bergeron and no Tuukka Rask in a game Boston was putting out an exhibition level of effort.
So there is absolutely a fluky aspect of the goals allowed in the final minutes of periods over the last few weeks. But the Bruins allowed a goal in the final minute of a period in 11 separate games this season, and it seems to happen to them in bunches when focus and effort aren’t fully present.
Those kinds of things will kill a hockey team in the playoffs where mistakes and momentum swings taken on a much larger tone than they might during a random regular season game. Claude Julien was massively disappointed with his team and the untimely goals in Winnipeg, and that’s a bit of a danger sign just two games away from being the top dog in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We looked like a disinterested team [against Winnipeg],” said Claude Julien. “Every once in a while your players will disappoint you, and this was one of those games. You expected better leadership. Our top line was by far our worst line for the night. It showed there wasn’t much interest in the game.
“Hopefully this is just a bit of a phase that our team is going through, and we can pick up our game. Bad habits can creep into your game quickly, and they can be difficult to break. Hopefully we got the message.”
Still the Bruins have put together a 6-5-0 record in the 11 games where they’ve given up a goal in the final minute of a period this season, and haven’t exactly collapsed in the majority of those games. It also doesn’t happen more extensively in the third period with the goalie pulled, even though it might feel that way. The Bruins gave up five goals in the final minute of the first period this season, gave up five goals in the final minute of the second period and gave up six goals in the final minute of the third period this season.
Adding the numbers up also reveals that the Bruins had a handful of games this season where they allowed goals in the final minute of a period twice in the same game, and lived to tell about it.
In all the Bruins have given up 25 goals in the final two minutes of periods this season, and surrendered nine goals in the final two minutes of the third period alone.
One might have expected something like this to really be a concern headed into the postseason, and it’s clearly something Claude Julien is looking to avoid. The Bruins coach highly values the first and last two minutes of periods, and the first shift after power plays both for and against the Bruins. All of those moments are important momentum-shifting events within a single game.
But the warts and imperfections are also simply part of a Bruins team that holds the NHL’s best goal differential in the third period, and is a dominant five-on-five hockey club built for the playoffs. The Bruins have weaknesses just like anybody else, and the penchant for giving up late goals is clearly one of them for this season.
But it’s going to take an awfully good opponent to expose them as the Bruins put the finishing touches on their first President’s Trophy worthy season in the last 20 plus years.