NASHVILLE Steve Kampfer has already experienced deliriously high moments and challenging low points during a full-figured NHL rookie season.
But Thursday in Nashville was one of those deep, dark nights that the rookie blueliner will remember as being close to rock-bottom when hes looking back on the season.
Kampfer has largely been very solid in his first NHL season as that rare puck-moving defenseman for the Bruins, but he made a pair of costly mistakes in the closing minutes of a 4-3 overtime loss to Predators.
They were the kind of costly gaffes that make you wonder how ready Kampfer is for playoff-style pressure, and whether he might be headed for a seat in the press box when Andrew Ference returns to action, perhaps as soon as this weekend.
The defeat was one of those games that a playoff team simply shouldnt lose this late in the year and mental mistakes, in the form of defensive breakdowns, simply shouldnt be happening.
Weve had a chance to review the goals. We need sharpness in how were thinking the game right now, said a perturbed Claude Julien. Were making some poor decisions mentally."
Davod Legwand goal's, little more than halfway through thethird period, tied things up at 3-3, and was the play that seemed toirk Julien most after the loss. It was a bad line change on an expiringpower play to kick things off, as Martin Erat got behind the Boston defense.There should have attention lavished on one of Nashvilles hottestoffensive players as he hopped out of the penalty box, but there was noBruin to be found.
Erats breakaway chance was kicked away byTuukka Rask as he moved out of his cage, and the Bs goaltender somehow got apiece of Sergei Kostitsyns rebound attempt in front of the net.
Kampferhad arrived as defensive support by that point and tried to fill up thenet as he landed in the crease on his stomach, but that left bothdefenseman and goaltender unable to do much of anything. Legwand jumpedon the sliding puck in front of the net and deposited the tying goalfor the Predators.
"Erat is on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box on a poor line change, but Tuukka bails us out," said Julien. "Then our D " meaning Kampfer "is on the back-check and ends up flat on his stomach in the crease.
"All he has to do is stop the slot, then the first save has been made and the puck is in the corner. But you end up flat on your stomach for no reason because theres nobody there, and it ends up being a goal.
Kampfer caught an edge and ended up on all fours in the goal crease.
The rookie defenseman compounded the mistake by taking a holding penalty on Mike Fisher in overtime. The ensuing power play led to Nashville defenseman Shea Weber beating Rask at the high point with a blistering slap shot.
Thats a real bad penalty in overtime, and weve seen that a lot lately, said Julien. A lot of bad penalties. Thats more mental than physical. I thought our team really battled hard tonight. We came out really well in the third period like we wanted to win that hockey game.
But then you give them that tying goal, and a bad penalty at the end. We have to get sharper with our decision-making because its getting too costly for us.
The numbers werent so bad for Kampfer on the evening as a whole, but the growing pains cost the Bruins a victory. The Bs rookie has looked much older and more advanced for most of the season, but it appeared the learning curve has slowed now that things have sped up on him at the worst time.
The holding penalty on Fisher was the one misstep that stayed with Kampfer after the game was finished.
It was a bad penalty, said Kampfer. Ill be the first one to admit it. It was a bad penalty on my part. I cost the team the game. It was my fault. Its a bad penalty. Its my fault. Theres nothing more to say. Its my fault.
Youve got to forget, but at the same time youve got to learn from mistakes. So hopefully Ill learn from it.
As with many game-changing plays late in the season with mounting importance, there were differences of opinion between player and coach and between teammates on and off the ice about some of the mistakes. Kampfer mentioned several times after the game that hefelt Rask was out of place and out of position, which blurs thelines of who was really at fault for the debacle.
Ill be thefirst one to say to Rask that those last two goals were my fault,said Kampfer. But youre trying to help out your goalie when hes outof position and it backfires. Its a frustrating game for the team.
Rask, for his part, was clearly upset about the defensive breakdowns in front of him that led to the Legwand score, and fired his stick straight up in the air out of sheer frustration when the game was tied.
Its a tough loss, said Rask. We get the lead, stuff happens and then you lose the game.
Obviously maybe you do something differently, but its some tough luck. We shouldnt lose this kind of game. I thought we had everything under control there, and then its just a tough loss.
Julien feels like Kampfer deserves much of the criticism for being out of position in the Bruins' defensive system, and he wont let his young players forget it.
Kampfer said he was simply jumping into the crease for Tuukka, because he was out of place though it was clear Rask was out of position because Erat had managed to get behind every layer of the Boston defense.
Thats exactly what I was trying to do, said Kampfer. Tuukka was out of place and the guy is getting the shot. Im trying to cover up, and the puck goes right to the other guy. Theres nothing more to say. Youre trying to stop a goal and it backfires on you.
While its still an isolated incident, Kampfer has to hope there arent too many more backfires before the season begins.