ST. PAUL, MN It was probably inevitable the Bruins would experience the kind of frustrated outburst that Milan Lucic put on display at the end of Bostons 2-0 shutout loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Lucic had previously lifted a shot from the bottom of the right face-off dot that seemed destined to hit the back of the net midway through the third period. It would have been a pivotal goal in cutting Minnesotas lead to a single goal, but instead Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom flashed to the post and gloved one of his 48 saves on the day. He had stoned a Daniel Paille breakaway and an Andrew Ference one-timer on the power play earlier in the loss, but that show-stopping number was the exclamation point.
Lucic simply looked up to the rafters and then tomahawked his stick down to the ice in a fit of pique.
But the Bs power forward wasnt done with his stick-swinging rampage by a long shot.
When it was clear the Bruins were getting shut out for the fourth time since losing Nathan Horton little more than a month ago, Lucic let it all out. The Bs power forward skated back to the Boston bench in the closing seconds of Sunday afternoons game and enacted the hockey version of going postal.
Lucic wildly swung his stick twice at the front of the bench as he skated off and then slammed it again twice inside the bench area for good measure. The blade of his stick snapped off from the force of the violent impact, and Lucic followed by disgustedly tossing the shattered shaft onto the ice as the third period buzzer sounded.
The Bruins were focusing on the positive post-game and attempting to talk about encouraging signs in the first and third period.
But nobody is going to buy that when one of their most influential players is clearly pissed off with the teams recent lackluster results.
Were struggling to make offense happen. Once we got over the hump and get some of those early goals youll see the confidence come back, said Claude Julien. Its taking it one step at a time right now. Frustration is something that can be dragged on for a long time if you let it.
Its like we told the guys we can be bitter or better, so lets work on getting better. So were going to work on that for the next couple of days.
For the Bruins its as much about simple player injuries as much as its about offensive ineptitude or an acute ability to finish off plays.
The numbers for the Bruins before and after the mild concussion suffered by Horton from a Tom Sestito head shot are stark and hard to ignore.
The Bruins were shut out only twice in their first 46 games of the year with Horton, and averaged a robust 3.7 goals per game while racking up 31 wins. In the last 11 games since Horton went down the Bruins have been shut out four times, their points per game have been halved to 1.8 goals per game and theyve only managed four wins.
Thats not even counting the compounded issue with the loss of Rich Peverley this week to an MCL sprain in his knee.
Citing injuries as a reason for losses is akin to excuse-making in the world of the NHL, but facts are facts: the Bruins are scuffling offensively without two of their top three right wings and its entirely understandable. Hortons big power forward frame is missing from its spot camped directly in front of the net.
The Bruins are getting little traffic generated around the cage, and that is one of Hortons specialties.
We got some shots once again, but I dont know how many second or third opportunities we had tonight. Goalies are good these days, and you need second or third chances to beat them, said Shawn Thornton. We dont want to make excuses, but at the same time Horton and Peverley are two pretty good hockey players. Youre obviously going to miss them.
But its also a chance for other guys such as our line to play a few more minutes and step up in that situation. Obviously were not doing a good enough job because were not winning games.
A gaudy total of 48 shots on net is nice against Niklas Backstrom, but it was far from an uncomfortable day between the pipes for a Minnesota goaltender riding a five-game losing streak. Combine that with the natural forward line chemistry thats been ripped apart with both players missing, and its clear why the Bruins offense has gone into hibernation.
Thats not expected to get any better against a defense-minded hockey team in St. Louis coming up next on the Bs road-heavy schedule.
It does have an effect. The injuries have disrupted our lines and our chemistry with each other. Weve had to move guys around and thats been a challenge, said Julien. You still have to overcome those things. Its not an excuse. Its reality. But were still a better team than the one thats been shut out lately.
The Bruins are still scouring for answers on the outside with Peter Chiarelli burning up the phone lines looking for healthy, impactful bodies. But its looking more and more as if the answers will need to come from inside the Bs dressing room with only complementary pieces expected to arrive via trades over the next week leading up to the deadline.
Peter Chiarelli has been adamant that Horton will return at some point this season, and everyone around the organization has to hope that its sooner rather than later. That hope is joined by the equal concern that Horton can avoid being gun shy despite his second significant concussion in an eight month span with the action expected to get nastier as the postseason nears.
The Bruins are finding out that life without Horton and Peverley isnt going to be easy. Theyve also got a thoroughly fractured Lucic stick to show as proof the frustration is growing with each passing offensive downturn.