The excuses are there if the Bruins want to take them, but they have no one to blame but themselves after their latest third-period stinker.
The B’s came into Pittsburgh early Tuesday morning, just hours after playing an overtime game and winning in a shootout over the Senators. After scoring two goals in the first period, the Bruins looked like they were poised to come out of Pittsburgh on the winning side of things, but they simply could not hold the lead, allowing three third-period goals in a 3-2 loss to the Penguins.
The Bruins now have four losses this season when leading heading into the third period, or, the exact number of losses they’ve had in the same situation in their previous two seasons combined.
The Bruins were no doubt tired Tuesday, but if they are truly believed to be a Stanley Cup contender, these are the types of games they must win. You could even argue that it would be an easier loss to swallow had the B’s come out flat and gotten rolled by the Penguins. But that wasn’t the case. The Bruins put themselves into position to win, and they couldn’t do it.
It wasn’t like you looked at the Bruins and it was clear to see that they ran out of gas. Instead, the Bruins made the same mistakes that have cost them third-period leads as of late in losses to Montreal and Washington. The Bruins were far too passive offensively. They sat on their lead and sat back on their heels, and that just doesn’t get the job done against an offense like Pittsburgh’s.
“I think in the second, we sat too much on the lead,” head coach Claude Julien said. “In the third period, our goal was to come out with our best period. Again, some major breakdowns in our play and it resulted in three goals. So I don’t think we have anybody to blame but ourselves.”
The Bruins made poor decisions in the third period with the puck, the most glaring being Dennis Seidenberg‘s costly turnover in his own zone. That giveaway led directly to Brandon Sutter‘s second goal of the period, the go-ahead goal that gave the Penguins the win.
Does fatigue lead to those poor decisions and defensive lapses? Maybe. But for a team that prides itself on defensive responsibility, these are inexcusable plays regardless. Julien, to his credit, wasn’t going to let his team behind the fact that they were on the back end of the back-to-back.
“That’s just an excuse,” Juilen said when asked about playing two games in two nights. “Everybody plays back-to-backs. If we’re tired, it doesn’t bode well for our hockey club. Certainly wasn’t the issue. I think it was more the fact that we didn’t do the right things at the right time and it ended up costing us.”
For much of the season, the Bruins have shown a killer instinct. That’s how they’ve worked themselves into one of the league’s top teams. But for whatever reason, that killer instinct continues to find itself on the side of a milk carton when the Bruins have third-period leads.
The Bruins don’t need to just be better in the third period in games where they jump out to big leads. Take the Washington game for example. The Bruins jumped out to the three-goal lead, and they then sat back on that lead, and it came back to bite them dearly. They did the same Tuesday against the Penguins, which is a dangerous proposition against one of the best teams in hockey.
These are lessons that the Bruins must start learning from. The schedule isn’t going to get any easier. In fact, it’s going to get even more difficult. They have just one two-day break left before the season ends, and they still have two more back-to-back stretches.
They started the season on a roll. But if they don’t start closing games out, this season may end up playing out just like Tuesday night’s loss to the Penguins.