(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
Tuesday night the Boston Bruins hosted the Florida Panthers. For both teams a win was essential to their standings in the final push to maintaining a play off position or in the case of the Florida Panthers attaining one. Going into the game, the Panthers were just four points behind the Bruins, who have been holding onto their wild card position like someone gripping a ledge with their fingertips. They have been pushed off at least once.
Hounding the Bruins just three points behind are the Ottawa Senators. The Panthers had been essential in assisting the Bruins in that three points going into Tuesday’s game. Prior to arriving in Boston to take on the Bruins the Panthers played in Ottawa the same night that the Bruins were in Raleigh taking on the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers won their game in regulation, while the Bruins were forced to wrestle the second point in overtime with a goal scored by David Pastrnak, the first teenager to score a game-winning goal in OT in the Bruins’ history.
As the puck dropped on the first period, the Bruins appeared to understand what was at stake. Though the shots on goal were even at seven a piece at the end of the period, the Bs were the ones with a goal—scored by Loui Eriksson, whose patience with the puck proved essential to the goal—with 3:03 remaining in the period.
As the teams returned for the second, the Panthers took control of the ice—scoring the tying goal just 55 seconds into the period while on the power play when Brad Marchand was sent off for high sticking. And then the inevitable began, the “terrible twos” of the Bruins’ season. It was clear that they were once again struggling to bring their game in the middle frame. This sentiment was punctuated by a second goal scored by Brad Boyes for the Panthers as a result of Matt Bartkowski fanning on his pass and Tuukka Rask not being prepared for the shot off Boyes’ stick.
“I just wasn’t ready enough for that shot. He was so far out that I was looking for options there, I wasn’t ready for it,” Rask said after the game. “When I’m not ready for it—you know it just caught me off guard.”
Where was the fight from the first period? Were the Bruins going to just coast through the remainder of the game? As the second period continued, it appeared that way. And after being outshot and outscored the period ended.
Coming out for the third period, it was quickly apparent that something had been said during the second intermission. The Bruins were back to playing big and showing the emotion they had exhibited in the first. However, the first almost ten minutes of the period it looked like despite the effort that the Bruins were going to find themselves on the losing end.
Milan Lucic, Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak had just come onto the ice and Dennis Seidenberg was able to push the puck up to Pastrnak, who made a nice cross-rink pass to Lucic barreling down the left boards. He corralled the puck and passed it back to Spooner, who was able to get it on goal. It took a funny bounce up and, when it came down, it was behind Roberto Luongo and the referee was signaling a good goal. Originally attributed to Pastrnak, it was announced on Wednesday that Spooner was indeed the one being credited with the goal—his eighth—while Lucic and Pastrnak each earned an assist.
From that moment on, the Bruins were rejuvenated and with just 1:09 remaining in regulation—as it looked like there would be bonus hockey—Lucic was able to get one five-hole on Luongo, with assists from his linemates. In fact, since this line was put together as a result of a knee injury to David Krejci, it has been able to put together energy and goals and points.
When it was over, it was clear that the Panthers realized that they had the game in their hands and they let it go. Despite the words in the room about regrouping and getting ready for the next game, the atmosphere spoke to the monumental loss those two points were in their quest to make it to the playoffs.
Meanwhile in the Bruins locker room there was an obvious exuberance but questions still remain about what they need to do to play a full 60-minute game. While happy they were able to win, the players realized that they played with fire and got out without burning down the barn.
In hearing Adam McQuaid talking to reporters after the game about having had that energy throughout the entire game, I couldn’t help asking why this seemed to be something that had been mentioned over and over this year. Why couldn’t they solve it?
“That’s a good question, I mean, I think just being focused and getting the consistency of playing a full 60-minute game,” smiled McQuaid. “You know, it’s not easy to do. You have to really focus, mentally you have to be there and you have to be there the whole time and it doesn’t take much to have a little lapse here and there and it can be costly. So, we know this time of year what’s at stake for us moving forward. I think just focusing on being consistent for the whole game.”
Perhaps looking at the amount of time that a person focuses at work before checking their iPhone or visiting their FaceBook page could be a measuring stick to how difficult it is to focus for a full game. Consider that a 60-minute game traditionally takes closer to 2.5 hours with whistled stoppage of play, commercial breaks, and intermissions.
After practice on Wednesday, the Bruins hopped on their plane and headed to Detroit, where they will take on the Detroit Red Wings. Once again they and the Ottawa Senators will be playing on the same night, so it will again be a must win game for the Bruins, as the Senators have a game in hand and stubbornly remain on their heels.