BOSTON -- Once again, the Boston Bruins and their fans provided an emotional, energetic game Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
It ended in another loss, the team's fourth in a row, as the Pittsburgh Penguins won 3-2. It's been a difficult, trying week for this city and its residents after the tragic events that occurred Monday when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street. Anxiety ran high again on Friday during the massive manhunt for the second suspect, and Boston and its neighboring towns were shut down.
The Penguins-Bruins game was postponed due to the severity of the events, but after the second suspect was apprehended Friday night, it cleared the way for the Bruins and Penguins to drop the puck at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Similar to Wednesday's game -- which was the first pro sports event in Boston after Monday's tragedy -- the Bruins' pregame ceremony Saturday was a heartfelt affair that touched everyone in the building, including players on both teams. The Bruins fed off that emotion.
"Yeah, we did," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. "We felt the same as last game, with the ceremony and all the police, firemen and everything in the building. It was a special time again and we built a lot of momentum out of that. We came out very hard and had a great start. We carried that through for pretty much the whole game; we just didn't again get the results."
The end result was the Bruins' fourth loss in a row, and with only five games (in eight days) remaining in the regular season, Boston needs to fine-tune its game.
"I think we're back to playing with a little bit of an edge and that's a positive," said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. "If we keep building and playing that way, things will start going a little bit better for us."
The Bruins have tried all week to help this city heal, in any way possible, and the players and the organization have done a great job of it despite the losses.
But from a strictly hockey perspective, the Bruins have encountered adversity throughout the lockout-shortened season. They haven't been able to produce consistently, and it seems they have lost their routine at times.
"In a sense, it's been a messed-up year," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. "On the other side of the coin, it makes you stop and realize, and Thorty says it all the time, it's just a sport, a game that we get to play and it gives you a little perspective on how much, or how insignificant kind of, our job is in the grand scheme of things. From one point, it's been different with not just getting into your routine, but I think it's brought everybody back to ground."
Despite the lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule, the months of January and February were relatively normal for the Bruins. But that schedule became a lot busier in March and April. The Bruins dealt with injuries to their top players, including Patrice Bergeron (concussion), Brad Marchand (concussion), Thornton (concussion), Chris Kelly (broken tibia) and Adam McQuaid (shoulder).
At the trade deadline, the Bruins were on the verge of acquiring star-studded trade chip Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames, but at the 11th hour the future Hall of Famer leaned on his no-movement clause and decided he wanted to be traded to Pittsburgh instead.
That forced Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to trade for another future Hall of Famer, Jaromir Jagr, who has fit in nicely here but hasn't been getting the offensive support he should be getting.
Then there's the schedule. Yes, every team has dealt with this condensed schedule, but Mother Nature and terrorism have deepened the impact on the Bruins.
Including the two games this week, Boston has had a total of three games postponed this season, the other due to a blizzard on Feb. 9, and because of that the Bruins will finish the season with six games in nine days (including Saturday's loss).
Bruins coach Claude Julien's challenge down the stretch -- balancing rest and trying to keep this team sharp as the Stanley Cup playoffs approach -- has been a difficult one. The results have not been there, but the team earned a postseason berth by salvaging one point in Wednesday's shootout loss to the Sabres. The Bruins hope to return to form in time for the playoffs.
"It's been a lot of ups and downs," Thornton said of the entire season. "Not starting with a lot of games, then we jammed a ton in the last little bit, and due to things obviously out of our control, this week's kind of been here and there. Now we're going to get into the grind here in the next week. As professional athletes, we've got to come to the rink every day and focus, as it's a new day, and try to worry about that game.
"The good news is we've got five games to keep building, but I think [Saturday] was a good step in the right direction," added Thornton. "Take away those power-play goals [Saturday] and I think we played a pretty solid game with a lot of emotion. That's the way we need to play. We were banging bodies and getting pucks in, for the most part, and that's the way we need to play if we're going to be successful going forward."
The Bruins can't continue to lose games in this fashion. Some things need to change. Milan Lucic, who was a healthy scratch Saturday, needs to play his physical style of game to help this team be successful. Nathan Horton, who suffered an injury in a first-period fight with Iginla and did not return, needs to play better, too, assuming he's available moving forward.
Then there's goaltending.
For the second time this season, Julien called out his No. 1 goaltender, Tuukka Rask, after Saturday's loss. When asked about the team's lack of penalty-killing prowess against the Penguins, Julien started with Rask, who allowed a pair of power-play goals.
"You're not going to point the finger, but your goaltender's got to make some saves, too, at the right time," Julien said. "He's got to make some of those things. The first [power-play] goal is in the 5-hole, between his legs, and he knows he needs to have those. I'm not just pointing at him, but he needs to be better. Your penalty kill, a lot of times, is only as good as your goaltending."
Rask accepted responsibility afterward.
"Yeah, well it doesn't matter," he said of Iginla's goal, a slap shot from the blue line. "It was 5-hole, so I guess it's my bad. No question about that, so not too often I cost us a game. Today I did. That's just how it is sometimes."
The Bruins can blame any numbers of things for their lack of consistency this season. They're not ready to make excuses and shouldn't make any, but with the playoffs a little more than a week away, the Bruins need to play Bruins hockey. Either way, their fans have been with them all the way, especially this week.
"It's awesome," Rask said of the crowd. "We really feed off that and hopefully it keeps going like that. It's really awesome playing in front of that kind of crowd, and we've just got to get the wins for them."