By Kirk Luedeke
The Boston Bruins were a somber, even aggravated bunch after losing their final game on the regular schedule this week to an undermanned but hungry Washington Capitals squad.
Bruins coach Claude Julien was not too pleased with his club's performance on Tuesday night in Washington. (Getty)
Keyed by Mathieu Perreault's first career hat trick, the Caps overcame the absence of leading scorers Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin to grab a 5-3 victory on home ice and reclaim the Southeast Division lead.
For both teams, it was their final game before the All-Star hiatus in Ottawa this coming weekend, and the B's were displeased that their overall effort and execution was found lacking in a game they enjoyed a decisive advantage in on paper.
Assistant captain Patrice Bergeron took to the stationary bike for a vigorous postgame ride after the loss, his face a grim mask of suppressed fury at how things played out for his club.
"We can't just rely on playing a good first, a bad second, and just think everything's going to come up for us in the third and we're going to win the game,'' said Bergeron. "It's not going to happen all the time. We've been lucky when it did.''
Head coach Claude Julien summed things up when asked about his team's defense. "Talk about our defense? There was none," he quipped.
When pressed a little more, Julien felt that a promising start was derailed by an uncharacteristic sloppiness with the puck by his players.
"It was a number of things," he said. " I liked how that first period was OK. We played a smart game, it was just the second period we started giving pucks away and we were battling our way back into the game, and just the way we gave up the goals. So, (it was) not a very good game for us to end with before the break."
He added that the team has five days to think about the loss and come back "refreshed and rejuventated," noting that the team was "slow and half a step behind" in Washington.
Although the Bruins took a 1-0 lead in the first period, they benefited from some good bounces that kept the puck out of the net. Boston started strong defensively, denying the Capitals their first shot until almost four minutes into the game, but once Cody Eakin and Perreault struck twice within 41 seconds early in the second frame, the B's were on their heels.
"I don't know if we had enough effort in the third period," Boston winger Shawn Thornton said. His fourth line was caught on the ice after an extended shift that saw Perreault score the decisive goal, breaking the 3-3 stalemate a little over seven minutes into the final frame.
"I think to a man everybody could have been a little better, we could have had better execution," he said.
Tuukka Rask, who was looking for his first career win against the Capitals, came up short in his quest. He gave up four goals for the first time since way back in October in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
"They're always costly in these games," Rask said when asked about the turnovers, two glaring ones by Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid leading to Capitals strikes. "They got a breakaway and almost another one but not too many odd-man rushes other than that. They're always tough, especially a team like this where they got some skilled offensive guys."
In the end, Rask took responsibility for the loss. "I gotta look at myself in the mirror," he said.
Rask and a few of his teammates not a part of the festivities in Ottawa will head down to warmer climes to re-charge the batteries.
They have five days to get themselves ready for the next round of games, which includes a rematch in the nation's capital in a matinee affair on Super Bowl Sunday.