So we've clearly reached the panic button, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-these-guys portion of the Boston Bruins' previously infallible season. The conference-leading Bruins picked up Point No. 100 last night in an overtime loss (at home) to the Los Angeles Kings. But they're only four up on the Washington Capitals (with a game in hand) and five up on the New Jersey Devils (who have three games in hand on Boston).
There was a lot on the line last night with a beatable opponent on home ice, and they ended up with their third loss in five games. Coach Claude Julien said after the game that it's head-slapping obvious what his team needs to do:
"A couple things have to happen," he said. "This is basically all I have to say, is that we're going to have to start out-working other teams from start to finish, like we were earlier in the season, and your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it. And I'm not telling you anything anybody here doesn't know, but that's basically what we need to do."
About those "best players." Marc Savard has one goal in his last 18 games; he's not exactly Vinny Lecavalier when it comes to putting the puck in the net, but he's basically turned into Scott Gomez since January. David Krejci has two goals in his last 20 games after scoring 19 in his previous 52. The offense has sputtered in the last two weeks, and the power play is on a 3-for-21 skid.
The Boston Globe believes last night's blown two-goal lead is indicative of the pressure on this Bruins team:
Last night, they had a 2-0 advantage over a young Los Angeles team on the wrong side of the playoff chase in the Western Conference. But when you're wound as tight as a guitar string and your confidence is just one tap from shattering into shards, all it takes is a nudge of pressure for everything to pop.
Consider last night's 3-2 overtime loss before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden - many of whom turned into boo birds by the end - an implosion.
"Earlier in the season, we just knew we were going to win when we were in that kind of situation," said Tim Thomas, who made 35 saves. "I think now, we still believe we're going to win. But it's not 100 percent like it was earlier this year. It's not 100 percent confidence."
This coming from a team that hasn't given up the lead in the Eastern Conference practically all season. Yikes.
Like Coach Julien, Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog thinks this is just one huge mental lapse ... while also openly wondering if this Bruins team was a big overrated early in the year:
Even in their wins, the Bruins look disinterested for stretches. They should never have let Ottawa back in the game after taking a three-goal lead last Thursday. They should've been able to bury the New York Islanders rather than settling for a one-goal victory. And you don't even have time to look for all the trouble spots in Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh.
The latest chapter, same as the previous chapters, in the Bruins' once dreamy season involves a 2-0 third period lead on Los Angeles, four fruitless power plays that could've put the game out of reach and too many failed breakouts and scoring opportunities to count before LA evened the score and then cashed in on a rebound in the final minute of overtime to leave town with the extra point.
You really have to start to wonder now, were the first three months of this season a mirage?
No way. This Bruins team is deeper than most in hockey. When it plays its system, it's a devastating combination of positional defense and pressure offense. The personnel is good, the chemistry works (for the most part) and this is still a team that can win the Stanley Cup.
(Provided Tim Thomas can win a playoff series. We still aren't sure about that, are we?)
It's all mental, which is why Julien is less concerned with home ice and the pressure from the other division leaders as he is with getting his team healthy and mentally refocused heading into the playoffs. Losing games like last night's is frustrating, but not necessarily a harbinger of doom.
Of course, tell that to Bruins fan Tony, who checked in e-mail this morning:
"You heard it here first: The Bruins will lose in the first round of the playoffs. The Devils will win overtake them for 1st in the Eastern Conference. It is due to Jeremy Jacobs deplorable ownership and the bad karma it generates."
Well, there's no cure for that, is there?