The Bruins blew three leads on Thursday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
Present slump aside, in-game leads have been more than safe in 18 games under Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.
But as the Bruins seem hellbent on dropping into the upside down world for a third straight stretch run, leads were anything but safe in the club’s near must-win against the Lightning on Thursday at TD Garden, and helped propel their downfall in a 6-3 loss to the Bolts.
After a sleepy first period in which space and time was at a premium for both the desperate Bruins and somehow-even-more-desperate Lightning — the highlight of the period came in the B’s end, with Tuukka Rask coming up with two big stops on Nikita Kucherov on a Lightning power play opportunity — the Bruins struck with a power-play courtesy of David Pastrnak just 1:33 into the middle period.
But as the Bruins were caught in their own zone right after the Pastrnak strike, the Lightning countered 44 seconds later, as Brayden Point buried a third-chance look home on Tuukka Rask.
And the theme of the night was established.
On the kill following a Brandon Carlo tripping penalty, the Bruins jumped back out on top behind a Zdeno Chara shorthanded goal ripped up on the Bolts’ Peter Budaj for his eighth goal of the season. The Lightning came right back yet again though, as Kucherov rocketed a puck home for his 35th goal of the season just 24 seconds after the Chara goal.
Riley Nash banked a puck off Victor Hedman and into the Tampa net at the 13:18 mark of the middle frame, but for the third time and in no time, the Lightning drew back even behind an Anton Stralman tally just 1:35 later.
The Bruins had three different leads and blew all three in a combined two minutes and 43 seconds.
In no world is that a recipe for success, and it showed in the third period.
Jonathan Drouin broke in and beat Rask just 4:12 into the third. Playing from behind for the first time all game in a deserved deficit, the Bruins were unable to claw even like the Bolts did to them on three separate occasions, and found their hole doubled when Kucherov fired yet another power-play one-time bomb that bounced off Chara and off Adam McQuaid and into the net.
With 9:49 left in the third period, the Bruins were done for.
Sure, they were gifted a late period power play, much like they were against Ottawa on Tuesday, but the Bruins once again did nothing with that advantage, and listlessly skated to their fourth straight defeat.
It’s impossible to imagine the Bruins taking their own fate out of their hands for a third straight late-season collapse, but it appears that it’s exactly what this team wants to do. And it’s hard to imagine that the strengths of this club are no-showing when it matters most yet again, but here we are. On a night where the Black and Gold simply had to be at their best, they weren’t. Not even close to it, actually. Their penalty kill was a disaster yet again. Their top line couldn’t find the back of the net, though they had chances galore, for the third game in a row. Their defense looked overmatched by a severely shorthanded Lightning squad (who lost Jason Garrison in the second period to add another body to that list), and they had almost no third period response.
This is the kind of loss that’s just straight-up inexcusable this time of year, but anything but a shock.
At least if their recent history tells us anything.
And so it’s on to the fourth must-win of the week on Saturday in Brooklyn.
A game that could end with the Bruins bumped from the Eastern Conference playoff picture.