Haggerty: Five things to shake Bruins slump

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Haggerty: Five things to shake Bruins slump

TAMPA So the Bruins have lost three of the last six games, including forgettable efforts against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bs coaches and players are touchy to words and phrases like slump, lull or rough spot, but any objective observer can see that the teams performance has dropped over the last two weeks. The Bruins are no longer the top-ranked NHL team in goals allowed (theyve dropped to third) and the trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic has allowed five goals in the last two games. The Bruins have lost the third-period battle in each of their last three games, and have been outscored by a 6-2 margin in the final 20 minutes after serving as the best third-period closers in hockey over the first three plus months.

Things are going wrong in all directions like they did during the seasons first month, and the Bruins are prepared to work their way out of it.

Were a team that changes things just a little bit and it can make all the difference in the world both good and bad, said Andrew Ference. Its a little bit of everything. Its having position in front of the net and battling, and its also taking care of the puck when you have it so that chance doesnt even happen. Its a number of small things that combine to make a bigger mistake.

Nobody is going to be 100 percent on top of their game every game, but the good teams know how to do it more often than not. They dont lean on the schedule as an easy out. Thats the thing too: making mistakes and missing assignments here or there doesnt make the game any easier. It doesnt take any more effort to play a good game. Its not about taking nights off. Its about being mentally sharp and every individual just needs to focus on what has to be done when were good. Its the same thing as we did at the start of the year. Everybody kind of took it themselves to improve their game and it made us a greater team.

There will certainly be difficult stretches in the season with more road challenges ahead during February and March including an 11-day road trip next month but this is one of the first bumps in the road. Here are five things the Bruins can do to help get the overpowering mojo they featured up until this four-game road trip.

1) Plenty of rest. The Bruins look like fatigue is creeping into their game for the first time since October, and its no wonder why in the middle of a five-game-in-seven-days stretch that includes travel. The Bs had an extremely friendly home schedule over the first three months of the regular season, and only now are they really getting battered around with back-to-backs and plenty of road miles. The fatigue clearly manifests itself in mental errors on turnovers and positioning -- and in suddenly empty gas tank during the final 20 minutes of games. The best thing Claude Julien can do is give his players plenty of time to recharge their batteries, and thats what hes done with optional morning skates and an off-day on Wednesday. Well see if it works in New Jersey against a team thats gone 5-1 since the Bruins humbled them on their own ice two weeks ago.

2)Start riding Tuukka Rask a little bit more. With similar team efforts from the Bruins against the Panthers and Lightning, one of the big reasons for a different result was the play between the pipes. Rask managed to steer three out of four breakaways from harms way during his win against the Panthers, and has won six games in row dating back to early December. Meanwhile Tim Thomas looked uncomfortable against the Lightning and was beaten to his glove hand by a clean Dominic Moore shot in the third period in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile Rask is 8-1-0 with a .965 save percentage since the beginning of December, and is pushing for more turns in the rotation right now.

3)Joe Corvo has no points and a minus-5 in his last five games, and hasnt a plus game since the Jan. 7 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Some of Corvos turnovers have led to goals in his own net as they did against an aggressive Tampa Bay team, and hes regularly been a defensive liability in front of his own net when the action gets heightened. So the Bruins limited him to 12:39 of ice time in the loss to the Lightning his second-lowest amount of ice this season and have juggled their defensive pairings to limit his exposure. The Bruins would do well to continue rationing Corvos ice time until he can repair his game and get rid of the costly puck errors.

4)The Bruins havent been the emotional aggressors since their loss to the Canucks two weeks ago, and havent had the same swagger or confidence after blowing out the Flames in the first game following Vancouver. Thats normally a sure sign of physical and emotional fatigue for the Bs, and that clearly seems to be the case against neutral opponents like the Hurricanes, Panthers and Lightning. The snarling emotion will be there when it matters and sometimes its dragged out by the antics of Brad Marchand whether they like it or not. But its been a problem over the last handful of games as the Bs have dialed down the attitude a bit. A fight or two leading the emotional pathway could do wonders to help the Bruins out of their little tailspin.

5)Simply wait it out. The Bruins are listless and searching for motivation in a four-game trip through the NHL Sunshine Belt that had trouble written all over it beforehand. But thats all going to change when this weekend when the Bs take on the Rangers and Flyers in back-to-back days, and face the kind of teams that will be there at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins have unfailingly brought their A game in all of the big games this season, and the tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers will bring the Black and Gold out of their funk. Its as simple as that for a team that looks like theyre going through the motions.

Bruce Cassidy: Bruins 'have got to have a stronger mental capacity' in times of adversity

Bruce Cassidy: Bruins 'have got to have a stronger mental capacity' in times of adversity

BOSTON – While there were some warning signs over the last few weeks that the Bruins might be getting away from their game, it didn’t really hit home until Thursday night’s frustrating loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The Bruins blew through three different one-goal leads in the second period in the 6-3 loss to the Bolts at TD Garden, and each time surrendered a tying goal to Tampa in less than two minutes after initially scoring. It was a clear indicator that the Bruins weren’t fully focused on the task at hand despite having already lost three games in a row, and that their ability to bounce back from adversity is going away from them again. 

That much was obvious when the bottom dropped out in the third period, and Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov turned into a two-man Lightning wrecking crew outscoring the Bruins by a 3-0 margin in the final 20 minutes. 

“I think the frustration is more in-game, where we’ve got to have a stronger mental capacity to handle those [challenging] situations in-game. Let’s face it, when you get on a bit of a losing streak, all those things creep in, whether it’s in October or whether it’s in March,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You have doubts, you start pressing, and again, it’s my job to alleviate the kind of attention in those situations.

“But, as I told you, we all have to be accountable and be responsible for ourselves, and that’s where we just need to have better focus and better discipline in those areas. It was there when it was 3-3 [on the scoreboard]. We’ve got to push back after they score, and that’s where I thought we started to come apart a little bit where we should’ve stuck together and stuck with the program. [We needed to] get ourselves slowly back into the game. We had 10 minutes to even the score, and we weren’t able to do it.”

Clearly this wasn’t just the coach alone in his pointed observations, however, as the lack of focus showed unfortunately in a rudderless second period for the Black and Gold where they couldn’t gain any separation from Tampa Bay despite scoring three goals. 

“[It’s] not being focused, not being sharp, and obviously at this time of the year it’s unacceptable, and it’s up on us to be better,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Those kinds of situations shouldn’t happen. So, for sure, we need to address those things and hold each other accountable.”

One thing is clear: The Bruins have a lot of work to do if they hope to avoid the same kind of late season tailspin that doomed them each of the last two seasons, and already seems to be happening over their last four losses to varying levels of hockey talent. 

Talking points: Tuukka Rask wasn't good enough vs. Lightning

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Talking points: Tuukka Rask wasn't good enough vs. Lightning

Here are the talking points from the Boston Bruins' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.