|Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick (right) hits Florida's Radek Dvorak. (photo: Getty)|
BOSTON – The game was announced as another sellout, but many of the seats at the Garden remained empty.
Just like many of the Bruins sweaters.
Officially, 20 players were dressed for Boston. But a far smaller number actually showed up to play. And that lack of commitment from a contingent of players cost the Bruins dearly, as they dropped a crucial game to a Florida club all but officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Panthers – and former Boston College goalie Scott Clemmensen – blanked the Bruins 1-0 as Boston, now just 3-11-3 at the Garden in 2010, fell at home yet again.
“Not everybody played energy-wise the way they’re capable of playing,” said veteran forward Mark Recchi. “If you don’t have that this time of year, you’re going to have inconsistencies like we’ve had. We’ve had it all year. … You have to have 20 guys playing hard. You don’t have to play great, you just have to play hard and play the right way.
“When you have 20 guys on board, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to win,” added Recchi. “We’ve got a good enough team that when we have all 20 guys, we can beat anybody.”
Without that unified effort, the Bruins struggle against everybody, even a Panthers team that came in having lost four straight by a combined 16-7 count. Florida didn’t get much offense going in this one, but against the Bruins, the Panthers didn’t need much.
Defenseman Keith Ballard scored the game’s lone goal at 7:15 of the first period, pinching in from the point and burying a pass by Cory Stillman from behind the Bruins net.
That was the only goal Tuukka Rask allowed on the night he was honored with the Seventh Player Award, but Rask is becoming used to having no margin for error with the anemic Bruins offense backing him.
“I think at this point you’re used to it,” said Rask when asked if he was frustrated watching his teammates being unable to finish their offensive chances at the other end. “It’s not the first time it happened to us, but you try to just think about your own game and focus on the next shot.”
Rask stopped the other 19 shots he faced, but Clemmensen was even better, making 36 saves for the shutout. Of course, Clemmensen could have had even more shots to stop, but his defenders blocked an astounding 32 Bruins shot before they reached him, while another 18 Boston attempts missed the net. That’s a total of 86 shots taken by the Bruins, with none finding the back of the net.
“You create chances to score and you do all of those things and you more or less carry the play all night, but your inability to score is coming back to bite you again,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “You can have all the chances in the world, but you’ve got to find a way to bury those. Right now our biggest challenge as a team is to bury our chances.”
According to Recchi, much of the failure to do that comes down to a lack of effort on the part of some of his teammates. Captain Zdeno Chara saw it differently, or at least did not want to call his teammates out publicly.
“It’s very frustrating right now we can’t win hockey games at home and we are doing better on the road, but certainly, we try our best and tonight, I thought we had a really good effort,” said Chara. “Everybody worked really hard, and one little mistake cost us the game and, again, we couldn’t score.”
Julien wasn’t buying that. When asked about Recchi’s comments, the coach didn’t hesitate to agree with the veteran’s assessment.
“There’s no doubt we had some players who could have been much better tonight,” said Julien. “And a lot of those players are the players we need to help us get through this. You can’t stand here and say we were outstanding tonight. We just lost the game. And if everybody had been as good as they can be, we would have won this game.”
The Bruins did catch a break though, as Philadelphia also dropped a winnable game to the Islanders 6-2 and Atlanta fell to Washington 2-1. Boston drops back down to eighth in the East now that they’ve squandered their game in hand on Montreal, but they remain in a playoff position, two points ahead of the Thrashers.
“I didn’t know that. But it’s funny how it goes. We always want to win when we have to win,” said Rask. “These kinds of games, with a team who’s out of the playoffs, they come in our home building and we just can’t win. It’s frustrating. I hope it doesn’t cost us too much at the end of the day.”
Douglas Flynn can be reached at email@example.com.