Boston Bruins: What Happened to Their 3rd-Period Dominance from Years Past?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIMarch 13, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 12:  Anton Khudobin #35 of the Boston Bruins reacts after being scored on in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 12, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins won 3-2.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Boston Bruins entered the belated, shortened 2012-13 NHL season coming off a campaign that saw them go a pristine 32-0-0 when leading after the second period.

Consider those two zeroes a pair of targets and consider the Pittsburgh Penguins the latest team to pierce the bull’s-eye. The Pens are the fourth team this season and the third within a span of 10 nights to inflict another blemish on that once-perfect record.

Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss at the Consol Energy Center dropped the Bruins to 3-2-1 in their last six games. In all three of those non-wins, they were safeguarding a lead at the second intermission.

They spilled a 3-2 lead in the third period of last Sunday’s home bout with the Montreal Canadiens en route to a 4-3 loss in regulation.

That was partially, but not exclusively, owed to captain Zdeno Chara serving a carry-over, 17-minute sentence for instigating, fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. It was also Montreal’s reward for drawing other penalties and staying comparatively disciplined in the latter half of the middle frame, even as they trailed on the strength of Dougie Hamilton’s go-ahead goal before the halfway mark of regulation.

Boston again harbored a 3-2 advantage at the 40-minute mark of last Tuesday’s visit to Washington, only to trip and fall by an identical 4-3 final in overtime.

On Tuesday of this week, the Penguins plainly resisted the easy route and refused to concede that, after being shut out for 50-plus minutes, it was not going to be their night. They instead elicited the healthful desperation that teams do not always carry when they are on a five-game winning streak, which they were.

One of the reasons they persisted, no doubt, was because they were facing a fellow heavyweight with a reputation for uncompromisingly flicking off the lights in the final 20 minutes.

Throw in a Feb. 15 visit to Buffalo in which a 2-1 lead devolved into a 4-2 falter, and the Bruins are now 7-3-1 on the year when carrying a lead into the closing frame.

That also matches their previous two-year total of non-wins in that situation and eclipses the number of regulation losses. Before they were a perfect 32-0-0 last season, they went 30-2-2 when leading after two stanzas in the 2010-11 season.

Boston held on to 2-1 and 1-0 leads against the Rangers and Maple Leafs on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, respectively, thus fostering a 64-2-2 hot streak spanning October 2010 to early February 2013. The subsequent reversal has happened within a slim span of 13 games.

This is not to say that the Bruins have constantly been missing their characteristic “killer instinct,” as forward Milan Lucic might say. Immediately following that Buffalo game, they won five straight and held the adversary scoring in the closing frame, picking up at least one goal for themselves in four of those contests.

Over the third periods of their four wins in the month of March, they have outscored the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0, tied Toronto, 1-1 and played to a scoreless stanza with Philadelphia and Ottawa.

But when permitted, multiple parties have pounced. Two of the latest, Montreal and Pittsburgh, are in a footrace with the Bruins for the top seeds in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference.

Two others, the Capitals and Sabres, are trying to sustain their playoff viability. The Bruins are a cumulative 1-2-1 against those teams and have been outscored in the final regulation period, 8-3, in those games.

It did not constitute a case of leading after two periods, but Boston started its season series with Buffalo by spilling a lead in the decisive stages of a Jan. 31 home tilt, their only other regulation loss so far. They broke a 3-3 tie via David Krejci with 18:15 to spare, only to let four different Sabres tune the mesh unanswered within the final 17:32.

On the one hand, you could disregard that and their second loss to the Sabres as a fluke and claim that the Bruins’ 15-8 third-period scoring differential at the quarter mark of the season was not indicative of their late-stage reliability.

On the other hand, within the last six games, Boston has garnered seven of a possible 12 points against six different opponents other than Buffalo. Those opponents have combined for a 7-1 scoring edge in the closing frame and those five missing points would have gone to the Spoked-Bs if the score at the second intermission held up.

Why didn’t they? Part of it is certainly the Bruins themselves, but it is also impossible to believe that any of these other teams have been oblivious to Boston’s recent record when defending late leads.

Buffalo, Montreal, Washington and Pittsburgh are all owed a little credit for their hunger and determination to make a statement. It is now on the Bruins to refresh their stale stinginess and issue a rebuttal, especially as the aforementioned footrace with the Habs and Pens heats up.