Much like in the NFL, you won’t go very far in the NHL with poor special teams as the Bruins have illustrated lately. Boston (29-15-2) fell, 4-3, to Toronto (23-20-5) at TD Garden on Tuesday as the Bruins' power play is mired in an 0-for-16 slump and the Maple Leafs scored two power-play goals to avenge two earlier losses to the B’s. The Bruins outshot the Maple Leafs, 41-26, including 15-6 in the third but they couldn’t overcome a two-goal deficit (4-2).
“We had some good looks on the power play but there were too many breakdowns on the penalty kill,” explained Patrice Bergeron. “We’re not in sync so we’re forcing plays, we need to get on the same page. The difference tonight was special teams so we have to take pride in adjusting and getting better.”
Boston hadn’t been home for a week and a half so they packed plenty of action into 60 minutes. Brad Marchand scored on a rebound less than four minutes into the game but Tyler Bozak tied it a little more than two minutes later with a similar goal. Bergeron gave the Bruins another lead with a tricky backhander/wrarparound from behind Toronto’s net. Bozak tied it again, this time on the power play.
Jake Gardiner gave Toronto its first lead (3-2) with a power-play goal in the second period. James van Riemsdyk scored a minute into the third with a shot from some distance that deflected off Zdeno Chara’s stick. Gregory Campbell hit the post then on the same shift he cut it to 4-3 with a backhander. The Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask for an extra attacker and had plenty of pressure but Jonathan Bernier (38 saves) and the Leafs held on for a very important road victory.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien realized the importance of this game since his team just returned from three games in California and now they head back out for a meeting in Dallas on Thursday (8:30 p.m., NESN) and their first rematch with Chicago on Sunday since the Stanley Cup Final last June.
“Every team has this, the middle of the year struggles,” said Julien. “That’s why I’m trying not to be overly critical. This is the kind of team we are, I’ve never questioned their character. We just have to pick up our game and be better.”
What they'll be saying: Chad Johnson hasn’t started a game since Dec. 19 in Buffalo and it’s time to give Tuukka Rask another breather. He has fallen victim to the usual bad bounces and fluky plays that hurt any goaltender but normally, he also makes the saves on routine shots like van Riemsdyk’s that went in Tuesday.
Boston’s power play woes will be focused on for the next few days but they are getting plenty of chances. With all their skilled players, it’s just a matter of time before it gets back on track. Coming into Tuesday, the Stars had allowed 139 goals to that seems like a good time for the Bruins’ power play to break its drought.
Former Bruin Phil Kessel had three assists so he leads Toronto with 21 goals and 24 assists. It’s safe to say that Team USA will be counting on him heavily in Sochi. Likewise, UNH product van Riemsdyk (18 goals, 18 assists) could have a big role in determining Team USA's fate in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate