BOSTON -- Even the sight of the No. 1 team in the NHL couldn't motivate the Boston Bruins to produce a second straight all-out effort Thursday night at TD Garden. And after a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, some of the veteran players were fed up with a club whose play fluctuates not just game to game but sometimes period to period and even shift to shift.
"We've only got a handful of guys competing every single night," said defenseman Derek Morris, who included himself among those who don't qualify. "All of us have got to look in the mirror and say did I play my best?"
The loss to the Blackhawks pretty well summarized the Bruins' season. Marc Savard went down with a knee injury (an all-too-common sight) and will have an MRI Friday. Boston played a decent first half of the first period and showed some signs of life in the third, but nothing more. In the end, the Bruins followed up a solid win in Ottawa Tuesday with a game that had them grasping at answers.
Winger Mark Recchi, who shouldn't take any of the blame because at 41 he has been one of the Bruins best players -- even when asked to center the first line after Savard's injury, is baffled.
"When you compete and play hard and play the right way, it's rewarding," he said. "There's no better feeling than that. And it's hard, but what a great feeling when you're done playing. You feel good about yourself, the team feels good about themselves and you can enjoy the game that much more.
"When you play like this everybody gets frustrated, everybody gets down, it's not as much fun at practice. It's something where we have to be better and we have to be better every night. We have some guys that compete hard every night. We don't have everybody buying into that."
There might only be one way for coach Claude Julien to get the players who aren't buying in to ante up. It's a tactic that's been broached in this space numerous times and came out of the players' mouths -- from Recchi and Morris at least -- for the first time: healthy scratches.
Of course, right now the injury bug is the best friend of some of the Bruins' biggest underperformers (you know who you are Michael Ryder and Dennis Wideman). While no one wants to see the Bruins forced to go for the long haul without Savard, Patrice Bergeron (broken thumb), Mark Stuart (broken sternum) and Andrew Ference (groin), right now those ailments might be the only thing preventing Julien from giving some Bruins who are 100 percent a seat in the press box.
With those injuries taking their toll and the trade market practically nonexistent, the solutions are few for Julien. It's up to the players to dig deeper.
Three days after publicly ripping his team for a poor performance in New York, Julien opted for another approach following Thursday's defeat.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at what's happening here. And it's not about saying 'it's OK,'" Julien said. "It's not OK. We should've played better, we could've played better.
"Our back end had a tough night tonight. It's pretty obvious. But again, we're battling some injuries, we don't have the best balance in our lines right now and again at least I saw our team come out in the third period and battle a lot better than they did in the second.
"When you lose Bergeron and Savard, your top two centermen, and then you have to play the best team in the league and you lose a couple of veteran defensemen, it's not an easy task. And we were exposed a little bit tonight."
With more than half of the condensed schedule in the rear-view mirror, there isn't a lot of time left for reflecting and perspective. The Bruins have to find more ways to win or they could be toast come playoff time, if they're even in the tournament.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.