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Emotionless Bruins need to start finding some inspiration

03.03.09 at 11:52 pm ET
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B’s goaltender Manny Fernandez has started exactly four games since suffering a lower back injury against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 8, so it was incumbent upon the Bruins players in front of him to step up with that extra effort in front of their rusty ‘tender.

Added to the mix were rampant rumors that Fernandez was once again back on the trade block, and was perhaps being dangled to the Phoenix Coyotes in a three-way swap that would have brought veteran blueliner Derek Morris back to the Hub — and potentially pushed Manny Being Manny Fernandez out to the Buffalo Sabres in the wake of Ryan Miller’s injury.

Trade or no trade, supporting Fernandez is not what happened in a significant step backward for an entire Black and Gold roster. A puck team without much pluck watched three third-period goals power the Philadelphia Flyers to victory and make a loser out of Fernandez in a 4-2 defeat at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The Big, Bad B’s were outworked, outhustled and outclassed by an impassioned Flyers bunch looking to make a statement, and don’t look now but, the New Jersey Devils — fortified by the return of All-World goaltender Martin Brodeur and a trade that brought them gritty defenseman Niclas Havelid — are only a scant six points behind the Bruins in the tightening Eastern Conference standings.

When looking for the disturbing combined lack of passion and performance on the ice, glance no further than Boston’s big defensive stopper, Zdeno Chara, who was skating during each of Philadelphia’s four goals on the evening and couldn’t do enough to slow down the Flyers trio of Mike Knuble, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. Chara did step to the plate after Scott Hartnell took repeated runs at Michael Ryder, and took two minor penalties after dropping the Flyers agitator. 

“We’re a team that thrived on being a hardworking character team, and we’re lacking that,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “It’s not X’s and O’s. We had a few guys say something after the game, but it’s irrelevant at this point. We need to pick up our socks and figure out what it is that allows us to be successful.”

Following the game, players traveled along the same party lines as Ward and pointed to a lack of emotion against a team that — just one season ago — tormented the Bruins with their physical style and sent more than one Boston player to the injury list.

Perhaps it was the trade deadline that had the team and it’s players preoccupied with names ranging from Patrice Bergeron to Phil Kessel that were drawn into speculation and trade rumor mills? 

“Wouldn’t Philadelphia be in that same boat?” asked B’s coach Claude Julien rhetorically, after watching a Flyers team that clearly wasn’t going through the hockey motions.

A good point by the Bruins coach, who like many of the players has watched way too many half-hearted efforts and character-challenged performances by a hockey club that brought the hard hat with them nearly every night in the season’s first half. NHL teams dreaded strapping on their work boots and putting in an honest night’s effort against the Black and Gold, but that went away faster than Gagne’s two third-period goals that buried the Bruins.

The concern is obviously that the Bruins built themselves a seemingly impregnable lead in the Eastern Conference standings and — in typical human nature form — got a bit comfortable and complacent with their place in the standings. The switch was turned off for a bit during the dog days of the NHL season, but now the group as a whole is having major problems flipping the correct switch back on for a consistent 60 minutes of Bruins-type effort.

The whole “on/off switch” phenomenon is risky business for a hockey team with only 18 games left in the season, and some major playoff expectations ahead of them. The B’s leadership needs to straighten out the slack and get everyone playing with the same impassioned intensity that helped the Spoked B jump out to such a masterful start. 

“I think tonight it was really evident that it was an emotionless game,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. “If you are somebody from the outside watching our team right now, I don’t see a lot of character you can really identify with. That’s been a huge part of our success for the last little while.

“I think we just need to wake up and snap out of it … it’s March,” added Ference. “I think it’s natural for certain periods of slump through the year; that is just the ebb and flow. You have to make an effort to get out of it. It doesn’t just happen on its own. I think it has to be nipped in the bud.”

Injury Ward: Petteri Nokelainen has been cleared for contact and will return to practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday morning. Milan Lucic is still considered day-to-day with an upper body injury. Everyone seemed healthy and accounted for in the postgame dressing room.

Player of the Game: Easily has to be Simon Gagne with his two goals in the third period, and the general dominance of that line against the Bruins defense. That’s as hard a time as the B’s defense has had against anyone this season. Gagne is also a great model for Patrice Bergeron, as the Flyers forward conquered concussion issues to once again regain his status as a dominant player in the NHL. Bergeron scored for the B’s again, and has also flashed his formerly dominant game. Also give credit to Matt Hunwick, who was credited with six hits and again looked pretty at home as a first-line forward.

Goat Horns: As stated before, Zdeno Chara was on the ice for each of the Flyers’ four goals and wasn’t able to fill the key defensive stopper role that the Bruins Captain usually relishes. Big Z did step up and defend Michael Ryder when he was crunched by Scott Hartnell in the second period, and for that he deserves some credit. But a -3 with only one official hit is a forgettable night for the towering blueliner.

“Winning the races and battles for the pucks, we got away from it,” said Chara. “We need to find it again.”

Turning Point: The Flyers’ players were all pointing to goaltender Antero Nittymaki’s second period glove save of a David Krejci shot as the moment when Philadelphia began gaining the upper hand. Michael Ryder had worked the puck out of the corner and skipped it back toward the Philly net. The puck passed through a series of sticks and skates, and Krejci found himself all alone at the doorstep. Krejci paused a moment and then flipped a shot toward the top of the night. Nittymaki snared the puck out of mid-air and robbed Boston’s playmaker of a sure score.

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