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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bruins Lose Their Fifth Straight Game, 4-1 to the Panthers, Leaving Their Playoff Hopes in Jeopardy

Even in a marathon 82-game regular season, there is never a good time to have a five-game losing streak (all in regulation, their longest such streak in over 6 years) but I'd say that during crunch time of a playoff push is just about the worst possible occasion to completely fall apart. Boston (39-28-8) lost all three of its games in California last week, fell 5-2 to the Rangers (42-24-8) last night at Madison Square Garden and this evening they came home to TD Garden and promptly lost 4-1 to Florida (41-24-9) in another must-win game.

The wonderful pregame ceremony for B's head coach Claude Julien (now the franchise's all-time leader in wins) was one of the only things for Bruins fans to feel good about after Boston failed to gain the all-important season sweep (3-1) of Florida who with the victory went five points ahead of them with a game in hand. As usual this season, a replay didn't go in Boston's favor (same story as the Rangers game) as a possible tying goal by Patrice Bergeron midway through the third period was wiped away and the B's proceeded to disintegrate.

After a scoreless first period, the Bruins broke the deadlock as Ryan Spooner beat Roberto Luongo (34 saves) at 7:42. Frank Vatrano and Loui Eriksson assisted on Spooner's 13th goal of the season (his 1st since March 3 vs. Chicago). Former Bruins great Reilly Smith tied it one at 13:51 as Tuukka Rask (32 saves) couldn't corral a rebound. Victor Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen assisted on Smith's 24th goal of the season (tying him with Jaromir Jagr for the team lead). I know everyone was in favor of it at the time but trading Smith straight up for Jimmy Hayes (13 goals, 16 assists) has been nothing short of a disaster in Year 1. Boston's suddenly useless power play went 0 for 4 and they compounded that by giving up a shorthanded goal to Trocheck at 18:46. Torey Krug got caught up ice and Trocheck was able to roof a shot over Rask's glove. Alex Petrovic had the lone assist on Trocheck's 24th goal of the season.

It has reached the point where I can honestly say after watching so many Bruins goals get called off for various reasons in 2015-16 (offside, goalie interference, no conclusive evidence the puck crossed the line, etc.) that I find it impossible to say what is or isn't a goal anymore in the NHL. Bergeron jammed in a loose puck that clearly was in the net before Luongo fished it out and yet after a lengthy review, the men in stripes deemed it still not worthy (it was ruled no goal initially). Julien has lost his mind over those type of incidents countless times this campaign and the normally unflappable Bergeron was understandably upset.

As you would expect, the momentum flipped and the Panthers quickly put it out of reach as Jokinen tipped in Dmitry Kulikov's shot at 10:56 for a 3-1 advantage (2nd assist to former Bruin Steven Kampfer) and Jonathan Huberdeau's empty-netter at 19:39 ended it. Boston only has seven games left (4 on the road and 3 at home) beginning on Saturday (7, NESN) at Toronto (27-35-11). Yes the Maple Leafs are one of the worst teams in the league but they beat Anaheim (40-23-10) tonight in overtime so it's not like they are a pushover that has given up. The Bruins are at New Jersey (36-31-7) on Tuesday (7, NESN) before a brutal one-two punch of at St. Louis (43-22-9) on Friday (8, NESN) followed by their final road game of the regular season-at Chicago (42-25-7) on Sunday afternoon (12:30, NBC).

If they can survive that gauntlet, their last three favorable tilts are all at the Garden: vs. Carolina (32-28-14) on April 5 (7, NESN), vs. Detroit (37-26-11) on April 7 (7, NESN) and vs. Ottawa (34-33-8) on April 9 (12:30, NESN). The top Wild Card team in the Eastern Conference-the Islanders (39-24-9) have one more point than the Bruins but that's not nearly as relevant as the Red Wings since they are also in the Atlantic Division. Boston is a point ahead of Detroit but the Red Wings have a game in hand which is why that meeting on April 7 seems like it'll be enormously important for both clubs. All that the B's can do is focus on their next game and hope that they can break this killer losing streak otherwise they are going to narrowly miss the playoffs for the second year in a row (which would surely cost Julien his job).

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