BUFFALO The Bruins remain Boston's best hope for another pro sports championship in this calendar year, but not if the players arent diligent enough at keeping the competitive fires burning.
Those fires appeared to be extinguished in Wednesday's 6-0 embarrassment at the hands of the also-ran Sabres at the First Niagara Center.
Their disappointment in Wednesday's effort (or lack thereof) was evident when one player let loose with an extremely loud F-bomb from the shower area while Milan Lucic quietly answered a series of somber questions during postgame. It seemed to accurately depict the team's mindset while continuing to stumble their way through games at a .500 clipsince losing an emotional decision to the Vancouver Canucks in their electric rematch in early January.But Shawn Thornton thinks talk, even of the purple variety, is cheap.
You have to battle through it and there wasnt enough of that tonight, said Thornton, who held his second highly critical postgame press conference within the last two weeks. "Everybody could have been better.
I dont know what to say except it wasnt good enough. Regardless of when goals when or werent scored, we werent close to good in the last 40 minutes.If the Bruins have been stupor for the better part of six weeks that's seen them go a truly mediocre4-5-1 in their last nine games, then Wednesday night'spatheticdefeat - the worst in four years dating back to a thrashing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs - should act as the rock-bottom wake-up call. The Thursday aftermath to the Buffalo debacleshould be akin to walking up after a benderto seethe car parked across the front lawn. It's a warning sign of a hockey team spinning out of control that might just need strong outsidemeasures to right itself if theplayers and coaches can't find answers within the room.
It went from good to bad to worse. Thats basically what happened to us tonight, said coach Claude Julien, whose team suffered its worst loss of the season (and who himself suffered the worst loss of his Boston coaching tenure since an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Maple Leafs on March 11, 2008, his first year here). Guys just started getting away from the game plan and it just got worse.
"These kinds of things youre not used to seeing from our hockey club, and it kind of does open your eyes to what happens when you do lose your focus. Maybe we can use this as a really good wakeup call and hopefully we can play better.
The warning signs were everywhere Wednesday night:
Zdeno Chara finished with a minus-3 rating in his worst game of the season, and made mental errors, physical mistakes and failures in judgment while getting sucked into Patrick Kaleta's world of hockey punkdom.
David Krejci looked disinterested, uninspired and completely lacking in urgency, desire and work ethic. He played indifferent defense, was on the ice for a pair of Buffalo goals, and lost 8 of 10 faceoffs. For a guy who vehemently vowed to remain professional no matter what line he was skating on, Krejci appeared unwilling to make a difference against Buffalo. His play all season as a minus defensive player and the great lengths to motivate him are warning signs with the Czech Republic center.
Tuukka Rask was every bit as bad as the skaters in front of him. Sure, the first two goals scored against him in the first period were the results of, respectively, a friendly-fire tipped puck from Gregory Campbell and a defensive breakdown led by Johnny Boychuk. But Rask was having trouble tracking pucks all evening and gave up a bevy of bad rebounds around his net. Julien had seen enough when Rask coughed up another goal on a Tyler Ennis backhander, and replaced him with Tim Thomas. Rask has lost four games in a row in his worst stretch of the season, and couldnt hold things together when the Bruins truly needed him.
And in perhaps the biggest red flag of all, the Bruins seemed to fold their tents at the first sign of adversity. They were the victims of a screwball call by referee Rob Martell, who waved off a Lucic goal that would have tied the score at 1-1 because of what he ruled was goaltender interference by Rich Peverley. Replays showed that Peverley made no significant contact with Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who was far outside the crease. But instead of continuing to fight, they offered little resistance the rest of the way.
That bothered Thornton.
You cant just shut her down because something doesnt go our way, he said.
Only a handful of Bruins gave anything resembling satisfactory performances, and just Thornton went above and beyond with a pair of fights. The second occured with the game already decided but was the mark of a true NHL enforcer: He defended Benoit Pouliot after Mike Weber attempted to make a run at him in front of the Boston bench.
It was one of those games, said Lucic, who had a sure goal wiped away by the bogus goalie interference call on Peverley. Were not a team that will make excuses or whine about stuff. Its definitely been a while since we had a loss like this.
"Maybe its for the best and maybe its a wakeup call. It shows we need to be much better and we cant take anybody lightly, no matter who they are.
But they've talked like that before; in fact, they were saying the same things Wednesday morning before the game. The Bruins are at one of those turning point times in the season when they'll decide whether they're again championship-worthy, or simply reveal that the flaws are too great to overcome this around with essentially the same case of characters.
Talking the talk is one thing. The question now, after getting humiliated by the NHL's biggest group of underachievers: Can they start walking the walk againbefore more drastic measure need to be taken?