BOSTON -- Now we know just how thrifty the Bruins players, and coach Claude Julien, can be.
You'd think it would be worth a couple of thousand dollars to rip into referee Dean Morton for his off-base high-sticking call against Milan Lucic that led to the winning goal in Columbus' 3-2 win at TD Garden Thursday.
But the Bruins to a man stayed diplomatic, even though replays clearly showed it was a blue stick, probably belonging to Columbus defenseman Anton Stralman, that clipped Blue Jackets forward Derick Brassard in the face after goaltender Steve Mason covered the puck and the whistle blew.
Several television replays showed Lucic falling with his stick nowhere near Brassard's face. An attempt to check the replay again on NHL.com failed because the league conveniently did not post the controversial penalty as part of its highlights package.
"I definitely didn't feel like my stick got up," Lucic said after the Bruins lost on a power-play goal by R.J. Umberger with 1:16 left in regulation. "I felt like it was below my waist the whole time. So it was unfortunate, but they had an opportunity there. They stuck around, stuck around and got an opportunity at the end and they won the game."
Lucic, who was back into top form with two penalties drawn earlier in the game and a spirited fight (his first since the second game of the season) with longtime rival Jared Boll, actually thought the call might have been going the Bruins' way.
"I thought maybe it was against [Columbus] because I felt like I kind of got hooked going to the net," said Lucic. "But when he pointed at me, I was a little bit surprised. It was just a bad time for a penalty to happen."
Julien toed the party line and focused more on the empty Columbus nets -- three by an unofficial count -- that the Bruins missed as the main culprits in the defeat.
"I'm not going to comment too much on that," Julien said of the call on Lucic. "That's called human error. And it's unfortunate. It's what it is, it's human error. We still feel that we had a chance to do something before that and it didn't happen. Somewhere along the way, those things come back to bite you."
While Lucic played his best game in the seventh installment of his comeback from a high ankle sprain -- he registered four hits and was very active at both ends -- it was his newly formed line with Blake Wheeler and David Krejci that missed the best chance to extend the Boston lead. Just 83 seconds into the third period with Boston up 2-1, Krejci fired one wide at the yawning net. Earlier in the game, Trent Whitfield (who recorded his first assist on a first-period goal) and Drew Larman also missed scoring opportunities with Mason out of position.
You can give the Bruins credit for focusing their frustration in the direction they think is right. They're internalizing the blame instead of looking for a scapegoat. Winger Mark Recchi talked about the league maybe taking a look at the play, but the only thing that could come from that is an apology. The two points in the standings that might be the difference between a playoff spot and an early tee time are not going to come Boston's way.
So it might have been worth what amounts to chump change for some of the Bruins' millionaires to verbally assault Morton. It wouldn't have been any more effective at earning the Bruins points, but it might have made them feel better and shame Morton for a while.
At least the Bruins, who are already dealing with a rash of injuries and an allergy to scoring goals, don't have to worry about a Stephane Auger-type controversy. They can get back to practice Friday and focus on burying pucks into empty nets so that the next time they get jobbed by the officials maybe the call will be academic.