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The Hat Trick: Bruins can’t save the work for the third

03.15.10 at 10:43 pm ET
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Blake Wheeler is checked by Bryce Salvador while setting up in front of goalie Martin Brodeur during the Bruins' loss to the Devils Monday night. (AP)

Blake Wheeler is checked by Bryce Salvador while setting up in front of goalie Martin Brodeur during the Bruins' loss to the Devils Monday night. (AP)

Before we go any further into the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to the Devils on Monday night, let’s get one thing straight: This wasn’t a Jacques Lemaire or Pat Burns-coached team that the Bruins fell to Monday night. It wasn’t a fall-behind-by-one-and-the-game’s-over scenario, as many who have followed the Bruins have grown accustomed to when it comes to playing the Devils. And while the Devils are a very viable Cup contender this year, this wasn’t a throwback to the mid-’90s-on torture that the black and gold have fallen victim to.

This was a struggling team going against a struggling team (the Devils, currently fourth in the conference, entered the evening 4-5-1 over their last 10 games) and struggling.

On Monday night we saw plenty of the Bruins’ flaws highlighted. Whether it was the painful uncertainty in net that led to Tim Thomas being yanked after 20 minutes of decent play accompanied by bad luck and big rebounds (for what it’s worth, only Zach Parise’s goal can be blamed on Thomas — Scott Niedermayer’s was the result of a screen and David Clarkson’s a breakaway), a missed opportunity at physically setting the tone (Milan Lucic’s dasher to the face) or the lack of consistent offense, it was all there in a rough night for Claude Julien and the gang.

The Bruins are still hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by just one point, with their 72 points narrowly edging the Rangers’ 71. Still, in a prospective matchup with the top-seeded Capitals (who are 2-0 against Boston this year and have outscored the Bruins by a margin of 8-2 in their two meetings), the playoffs might just be a formality —  a quick stop on the way to yet another offseason filled with questions of how the Bruins can return to prominence for good.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The offense, aside from being snakebitten when it comes to getting multiple tallies in the third (see below), peppered New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur with 15 shots in the final 20 minutes, and after being outshot 22-21 through two periods, ended the game having outshot the Devils, 36-28. Here is the hat trick of lessons learned in close-but-not-close-enough match at the Prudential Center.

IT’S COME TO THIS

“This” being, of course, that if the Bruins are trailing a team — not a Martin Brodeur team, but any team — by a multiple-goal margin entering the third period, the game just may be as close to being over as it could be without the clock reading 0:00.

Monday marked the 27th consecutive game in which the Bruins failed to score more than one goal in the game’s final period. Offense has obviously been a problem all year, but even in a game in which the Bruins applied tons of pressure late, it almost seems a foregone conclusion the Bruins won’t be mounting any big third-period comebacks soon.

The streak of 27 games without a two-goal third period is a record for the Bruins, and one that they would rather break before the next time they find themselves in a situation similar to that of Monday. With the hot-and-cold Manny Legace and Marc-Andre Fleury the draws for Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, the prospects of the streak ending this week may not be great.

The Bruins deserve credit for the fight they put up in the third period — coming back against Brodeur is no easy task and they came within a goal of doing it — but perhaps they would have found themselves in a more desirable situation late in the game had they played the first period like they did the third. Though the idea of a multi-goal comeback in the third period certainly makes for more exciting hockey than a well-paced game, isn’t the problem that they put themselves in situations where they have to have big periods? In the Bruins’ last 10 games, they have scored in each period just twice. The lesson? Play consistent hockey before focusing on huge periods.

TUUKKA’S INTENSITY?

The first period wasn’t all Tim Thomas’ fault. In fact, the veteran goaltender played relatively well considering how bad his stat sheet made him look. Still, something was different from the first period to the second period, and maybe, just maybe, it’s that the Bruins feel more comfortable playing in front of the young guy.

Maybe they got some shot of life after falling behind in the game’s first 20 minutes. Maybe Julien said something that got to them in the locker room. Hell, maybe Kurt Russell was in there channeling Herb Brooks, but something was different.

Rask faced as nearly as many shots (10) and just as tough of shots in the second period as Thomas did in the first. He had to stand on his head on some tough rebounds and seemed to be sprawling around just as much as Thomas. This isn’t to say that Rask is the better goaltender, but the Bruins, who scored 43 seconds into Rask’s night, just seemed to have a better energy about them with Rask in net.

We’ve already touched on the subject of which goalie the Bruins should stick with, but no matter who is in net, the team can’t let their collective energy depend on who’s playing behind them.

GETTING READY TO PACK A PUNCH

Mark Stuart’s leveling of Jamie Langenbrunner was one of the more exciting plays from the Bruins, and though not all of their attempts at physical play landed successfully on Monday night, the team that continues to be berated for not seeking immediate vengeance on Matt Cooke will need any muscle-induced momentum they can get.

After going toe-to-toe with the Flyers’ Dan Carcillo last week, Stuart saw his hit on Langenbrunner result in a fight with Rod Pelley in the second period. The bout came in the same period that Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond in a fight that sadly wouldn’t have earned either of the enforcers a white belt.

Lucic also tried getting in on the action by going after Andy Greene in what seemed like a questionably dirty hit from the beginning. Greene was heading into the boards and Lucic came at him from behind. Rather than landing the hit, Lucic fell face first into the boards and hit himself on the dasher. While landing the hit could have earned him a trip to the bin, the odd play instead earned him a trip to the locker room to check on his face.

Still, despite some botched attempt at letting the tough guys do the talking, there isn’t a hockey fan in the league who doesn’t have Thursday’s bout with the Penguins circled on their calendar. If their physical intensity keeps up between now and then, those on hand at the Garden could be in for some old-time hockey.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Milan Lucic, New Jersey Devils, Tim Thomas
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