Bruins trying to hang on for dear life amid 3-game losing streak

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TAMPA - The Bruins are simply trying to hang on for dear life right now.

With a competitive 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night, the Bruins have now lost three regulation games in a row for the first time all season and hold a slim two-point lead over Detroit for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. 

The B’s are also weeks away from the returns of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara to the lineup and it appears scoring goals is going to be an issue until they get their best player back in No. 37.

The simple reality is that even with the return of Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins are limited both in terms of talent and explosiveness and simply couldn’t hang with the Bolts for 60 minutes. They were good for the first two periods, but then things crumbled minutes into the third period when a couple of mistakes opened the door for a Tampa Bay explosion.

“Tonight was a little more disappointing, to be honest with you. We were right there," said Bruce Cassidy. "Guys that have been in the league, whatever, just mishandle pucks and then all of a sudden [Tampa jumps on it]. We have plays at the net and shots get blocked. We had a few passengers and we can’t have that against a No. 1 team like Tampa.

“The second period we’ll look at and see what we did well. But you’ve got to be pretty good to beat these guys, and when you’re missing a few guys that can make plays for you then you’ve really got to be good. We weren’t quite there yet, but much better than the previous [game against Florida].”

The Bruins went into the final 20 minutes having done a lot of really good things. They got the early lead when David Pastrnak scored his 20th goal of the season and they’d managed to hold the high-powered Lightning to a single goal in an important divisional game.

But things got ugly in the third. A turnover by Brandon Carlo led to Mathieu Joseph getting behind the Boston defense, and a puck went right between the legs of Torey Krug before getting deposited in the back of the Boston net. The real backbreaker, though, was the Brad Marchand turnover on the ensuing power play where the Bruins have been so good this season. Instead, it was Anthony Cirelli off to the races on a shorthanded breakaway and Tuukka Rask couldn't make a save on a bottom-six grinder at a time when the B’s really needed it in the third period.

At that point it’s a 3-1 game and even with more than 15 minutes to play in the third, one could see the Bruins visibly sag knowing that they weren’t going to be able to score three goals in order to come back and win. They scrapped for one David Krejci score with the goalie pulled, but two-to-three goals are about the maximum for the B’s offense right now until they get their high-powered stars back.

They are 27th in the NHL in offense and 1-for-12 on the power play the past three games and offensive confidence is at a season low.

“Where we really need [improvement] is the low-to-high passes. When we get it to the defensemen we’re really struggling to get those shots [through]. It’s almost ironic that David Krejci, a forward, gets one through to give us a chance,” said Cassidy. “We need a little more there and we’ve talked about that on a regular basis. That’s an area of our game where when you’re not scoring on a basis it could be really productive.”

For right now, the Bruins just need some points. 

They need to grind things into overtime or get a shutout from one of their two high-performing goaltenders and simply find a way to keep things afloat. Perhaps the return of McAvoy and the addition of waiver-wire acquisition Gemel Smith can help bump things up a little for the B’s, but it sure looks like things are headed for a bumpy road over the next couple of weeks.

The Bruins certainly know the score right now.

“I don’t know when the last time that’s happened to us, so we need to regroup and come at some teams really hard,” said Pastrnak. “We have to absolutely run through everything and get the two points.”

That’s what it comes down to for the B’s. They are in survival mode and other teams in the Eastern Conference know they’ve got a rival in a weakened state that could and should be in the playoffs this season.

The Bruins need to find a way to get back to the low-scoring grind, get a couple of their top offensive players hot through the next few weeks and hang on for dear Stanley Cup playoff life with a white-knuckled grip. It’s a lot easier said than done without two of their best players and biggest leaders, but that’s the hard-knock life for the B's right now.    

 

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