When the Bruins fall into seventh place in the Eastern conference (it should happen sometime around 9:30 p.m. Friday as long as the Senators can win a home game against the cellar-dwelling Canadiens), the collapse of the 2011-12 Bruins will reach a new low.
Consider that it isn’t as though the Bruins have been caught by a red-hot team that’s been bulletproof as it has inched closer and closer in the standings. The Senators have been OK. They’ve been playing without their No. 1 goaltender, and they’re 9-10-3 over their last 22 games.
Think about that. The team that should overtake the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead Friday night has been below .500 since Jan. 21. It’s a team whose starting goaltender, Craig Anderson, has not played in nine games because he cut himself in a kitchen accident. It’s a team that therefore has had to rely on Ben Bishop, a rookie who had played in only 13 games prior to this season, as its starting goaltender.
No, no. It hasn’t been about the Senators. It’s been about the Bruins. It’s a collapse, and not a climb, that has the division where it is right now. And if the Bruins don’t figure something out soon, it’s a collapse that will make them the biggest disappointment since some baseball team wrote all the other sports team a lifetime supply of “we choked worse” notes in September.
This is the time of season that teams prepare themselves for the playoffs. They try to get everybody going, keep their goaltender “fresh,” basically fit as many clichés as they can into one month and hope that when the postseason starts, they’ve hit their stride.
The Bruins are spending that time falling apart. They actually got a head start way back in January, but it has continued to happen with each passing game. Unlike the Red Sox, the Bruins aren't going to miss the playoffs. They'll get in, but if remain in their funk, they won't last.
How’s this for alarming? If the Bruins allow the first goal to the Flyers Saturday, play them tight until midway through the second period and lose a 4-1 game, they would honestly be able to call it a step in the right direction.
That’s how bad it’s been for the B's of late. They’ve lost four in a row, the last three of which have seen them allow five or more goals. As far as the season is concerned, it’s getting late and the Bruins are getting worse.
Not just worse than they were when they were the best team in the league from November until the end of the December, but worse than everyone else. Their losing streak is both the longest they’ve had in over two years and the longest such streak in the NHL right now. Their defense and goaltending have collectively been wretched, so much so that the average person probably wouldn’t believe the very same people shut down multiple offensive juggernauts en route to winning the Stanley Cup a season ago.
The Bruins lose these games early, spotting teams leads in remarkable fashion. They’ve allowed the first two goals in each of their last four games, and if they do that in the playoffs, their stay in the postseason will be short. Only once in last year’s playoffs did the Bruins allow the first two goals of a game and win, and it took them overtime to do it. Needless to say, this isn’t the same team as last season, despite so many familiar faces.
"We've down a good job at sticking together and keeping what positive we can, but that's not working," Tim Thomas, who has allowed four or more goals in four of his last six starts, told reporters after Thursday's loss. "I don't know what to do. We've got to do something to change it. I know that."
Each game is a new opportunity for the Bruins, but they’re running out of time to turn this thing around and be ready for the playoffs. They’ve tried putting Jordan Caron, one of their few forwards with a pulse recently, on the first time. They’ve tried using their playoff defense pairings. They’ve tried a lot of things, but they’re still searching for results.
"We need everybody," Claude Julien told reporters after Thursday’s loss. "We need some good goaltending. We need some good defensive zone coverage and less breakdowns. All that is about the team. We didn't win last year because of one person. We won because of the team and right now we're struggling because the team is struggling and we've got to work our way out of that as a group."