BOSTON -- Win or lose, since the month of March began and the Bruins embarked on a stretch of 33 games in 62 days, the condensed schedule has been the question and the answer when trying to figure out why the Bruins aren't playing up to their capabilities.
Prior to his team's Feb. 25 win over the Panthers, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, "It's the end of the easy schedule. The tough one kicks in starting this afternoon. We're aware of that. We've got some games in hand that we've got to win along the way if we want to get back to being one of the top teams."
The Bruins beat the Islanders 4-1 that February night, and since then they have gone 15-8-2, including Thursday's 2-1 loss to those very same Islanders. It was the same reply when Julien or his players were asked about why the 60-minute effort wasn't there.
"I thought the first period was the best first period in a long time," Julien said. "And the rest of the game, although they were the better team for the most of it, I just felt that I could see our guys were trying, we just ran out of gas. Third game in four nights and the effort, will was there, but they did a great job. They were obviously a little fresher than we were. We just didn't have enough in the tank tonight, I think, to battle through that."
No one is questioning that the Bruins are tired with 10 regular-season games left. But what team hasn't felt that way for stretches of this season? At what point do we all stop talking about it and really examine what this Bruins team is capable of?
"You can ask me if I'm tired of that or I can ask you if you're tired of asking," captain Zdeno Chara said in a blunt postgame scrum. "Like I've been saying, everybody knew that it's going to be heavy, that it's going to be a lot of games in a short period of time. But now we're coming towards the end of the season, and, yeah, it's not easy, but like I've been saying, it's not an excuse. Everybody has the same schedule."
But then, just when it seemed the captain might call out his teammates for a game they clearly needed to win to send a statement that mediocrity won't be accepted, he went back into the glass-is-half-full mode.
"I think we are in a good spot, we just need to get better in certain areas of our game and make sure that we get everything that we need going into the playoffs," Chara said. "It's not going to be a perfect season. I don't think anybody has a perfect season, and those teams that do have, well, good for them. You can't play a perfect season. That's just the way it goes. You're going to have some tough stretches. I thought the last few games -- a number of games -- we battled through them."
This belief of battling through came on the heels of a game in which the Bruins watched leading scorer Brad Marchand take an elbow to the head, did nothing about it and then barely held on for a 5-4 win Wednesday night in New Jersey. Then the Bruins came out of the gates flying Thursday, and while fatigue was definitely a factor in not sustaining that energy, the mental complacency that has seemed to plague this team settled in again.
The Bruins are tired and short-handed without two of their best players in Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. All things considered, they played well Thursday despite losing. But the fact is they still had the skill and ability to beat an inferior team.
Forward Gregory Campbell said the Bruins are still gearing up for the playoffs.
"I think there's definitely enough experience and leadership in here to know what we're facing, and the playoffs is a different season, and you really start from scratch," Campbell said. "We're trying to build towards a game where we're playing within our strengths and we're competing every night and feeling positive, but there's a lot of things that are up in the air right now, seeds and whatnot, and we're looking forward to the playoffs, and, like I said, we realize that a lot of things can change. A lot of things can happen, and that's the season that really matters."