Here we are, 12 games remaining in the 2014-15 NHL regular season, and we’re still wondering if the Boston Bruins are going to make playoffs.
The Bruins won five straight in the month of March and followed it up with a shutout loss against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, and a 2-1 loss in the shootout against the bottom-feeding Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. They are as erratic as they have been all season, but what’s most frustrating is that every time you think the Bruins have turned the corner, something like this happens. They revert back.
Tuesday’s game should have been the one “easy” test for the team in an otherwise loaded month of March. Even though it looked like it’d be the Bruins’ game on paper, they just couldn’t find a way to win.
“We’ve told ourselves that we needed to find a way to get that second goal or even the third one,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We needed to, kind of, find a way to give ourselves a cushion and we didn’t do that. It’s pretty easy when you don’t have that killer instinct for other teams to get back. It’s just one shot away and that’s what they did. We definitely had most of the play but that being said it’s about results.”
It’s hard to pinpoint where things went wrong for the Bruins on Tuesday. For one, Sabres’ goaltender Anders Lindback stole the show, stopping 44 of the Bruins’ 45 shots. Lindback kept Buffalo in the game, especially in the first two periods where the Sabres were outshot 26-10.
“We have to make it harder on him,” said Bergeron. “We were doing a good job of pucks on net but that’s still not good enough. Any goalie in this league if they see it, most likely, they’re going to stop it so he’s no different. It’s about making it hard on them and we didn’t do that.”
The Bruins weren’t able to get the kinds of quality shots off that would’ve made a difference. It didn’t help that the Sabres blocked 28 shots, either. Still, the chances that the Bruins did have were thwarted.
“I think when you look at the zone time, you look at the shots on net, there’s a lot there,” said Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien. “I think we could make better choices on where to put pucks. So many times it was right in his glove, an easy save where sometimes you could have shot for a rebound. Got guys going to the net, and even around the net area. If we’re not going to be a little bit more hungry and heavy around that net area, then you know you’re not going to get those loose puck.”
Scoring goals has been an issue for the Bruins all season. Boston has an average of 2.6 goals per game, second fewest of any team currently in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The team that has a lower average? The Montreal Canadiens with a 2.55 average. The difference is that Canadiens’ goal differential is a +28 while the Bruins carry a +8.
It’s the obvious answer, too. The Bruins are still sound defensively, but have suffered a dip in offensive production this season. In their last four games (2-1-1), the Bruins have scored just five goals. What’s more is that they’ve had 145 shots on net. In the four games before that (3-0-1), the Bruins scored 14 goals on 126 shots. Stretches like these aren’t out of the ordinary for the Bruins this season, but it’s still worrisome that it’s happening.
“We need to find ways to score those goals,” said Loui Eriksson, who scored the team’s only goal in the 1st period. “We’re maybe too slow to put it in and giving too much time for the goalie to come back and make the save. I thought we did a pretty good job to get shots on net today. We just need to find more ways to score more goals.”
In the last few weeks of the season, we still don’t know if the Bruins are a good team. Their erratic play from this past week is merely a microcosm on a season that will be remembered as anything but predictable. As for the playoffs? Whichever Bruins team shows up for the last 12 games should tell us more about what happens next.
Or not. Who knows.
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Mike Miccoli covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers and has been a credentialed member of the media for all Bruins’ home games for the past five years. As a former player, coach and official, Miccoli has been around the game of hockey since the age of three. Along with his work on THW, Miccoli has also been published in the New England Hockey Journal, Improper Bostonian magazine and on BostInno.