BOSTON -- Not to take away from the Boston Bruins' resilience and no-quit attitude, but one has to wonder: When playing elite teams -- the New York Rangers in this case -- is the Bruins' game half empty or half full?
Twice this season against the team that many had pegged as the Stanley Cup favorite and one the Bruins very well could face in the postseason, Boston has not given the Rangers their best shot. Instead they've hung in like a boxer taking punches and trying to sneak in a knockout blow of their own. In fact, they've twice been able to steal a point, once in New York when they forced overtime with a third-period comeback, and on Tuesday when they again forced extra time with a furious two-goal punch in the final 1:31 of regulation.
But both times they lost, 4-3, and one can only wonder if they hadn't let the Rangers dictate play for the first 40-plus minutes each time, would they have been the one throwing haymakers all game and coming away with two points and the win?
"It's a hard game to analyze as a positive or a negative. There was a little bit of both in this game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I felt that those first two goals were poor execution on our part. We kind of dug ourselves a hole of our own doing.
"At the same time, you've got to appreciate the fact that we never gave up and we came back and tied the game with our goalie pulled on two occasions. That's a positive to take out of it."
That mixed bag of analysis also was prevalent in the Bruins' dressing room. Defenseman Andrew Ference, who had one of his worst games in recent memory, looking completely lost on the Rangers' first-period goal by Carl Hagelin, accentuated the positive, focusing on the fact that his team again withstood mediocrity through the first two periods but escaped based on their resilience.
"It's a mix. We spotted them the three, which is frustrating, obviously. But we can draw on a lot of positives," Ference said. "As frustrating as it is to not score until the third, we created quite a bit.
"They are a tough team to play against. I think we did a fair job in the first little bit, and I think we had enough to draw on to not get too frustrated. It was good that guys stuck with it and came up big with a couple of guys that buried those last couple of chances to tie it up. You can't beat yourself up."
That's all fine and dandy, but the Bruins have proven against other teams that they can play the way they did in the final 11:16 and overtime for 60 minutes and that they can go toe-to-toe with the conference contenders. Winger Milan Lucic seemed to realize this after the game. Lucic, who himself got caught getting too cute on an errant backhand pass at the offensive blue line that got picked off by Rangers forward Derek Stepan, acknowledged the Bruins need a better and crisper effort from the start.
"Sometimes you just want to get the puck in and establish offensive zone presence and spend some time in their end, and sometimes we're trying to make maybe one too many passes and not just shoot the puck on the net," Lucic said. "Those blue lines are really important areas in making big plays, so we can't be cute when we have the puck in those areas. When we get our chances to shoot, we've got to take them and be a little bit more selfish."
Lucic was happy with another stolen point, but he realizes that such starts and lackadaisical efforts against teams like the Rangers cannot be tolerated.
"You look at the last two games we played against the Rangers. There was a little too much of that going on," Lucic said. "We got ourselves behind the eight ball in New York going down 2-0. We got ourselves down 3-0 today, and we have to dig our way and battle our way back. Every team puts a lot of emphasis on having good starts and trying to get that first goal, so maybe that's something we can do a little better heading into our next game."
Julien gave his squad the day off Wednesday before they return to the ice for their final practice leading into a five-game road trip. He's definitely hoping his team comes back prepared to give the 60-minute effort that led them to their best start in franchise history.
Like Lucic, Julien knows the compete level has to be better if the Bruins are to knock out the best. No one is questioning the resilience of the team, but in two games against the Rangers they have condensed that resilience into the final period. That needs to change.
"I didn't think we competed as well as I've seen us compete since the beginning," Julien said. "I thought that was probably down a notch; we needed to compete a little bit more if we wanted to win this hockey game.
"To gain a point after being down 3-0 in the third is certainly something to be happy about, but I don't think we're going to get carried away with thinking this was a great situation. I think we're fortunate to get this point and we'll take it and hopefully learn from it."