Bruins could use a break

WASHINGTON -- Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas boycotted the team's trip to the White House and snubbed President Barack Obama. The Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin backed out of Sunday's All-Star Game in Ottawa because he is serving a three-game suspension.

Oh, and there was an important hockey game at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night between the Bruins and Capitals while the president was giving his State of the Union address across town.

There was plenty of buzz around the Bruins the last few days, and all they wanted to do was focus on hockey. They fell a bit short in that department as the Capitals skated to a 5-3 victory to send Boston into the All-Star break with a 31-14-2 record and 64 points, good for second place in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Rangers.

Last season, the Bruins were 28-15-7 at the break and finished with an emotional 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Jan. 26. Losing to the Capitals in the fashion they did was not what Bruins coach Claude Julien was hoping for heading into the hiatus.

"It could be a number of things," Julien said. "[Monday] was a pretty big day for everybody and the All-Star break is coming up."

Julien was pleased with the team's first period and the Bruins held a 1-0 lead after the first 20 minutes. The second and third periods were not typical of the Bruins, and when they turned the puck over, Washington capitalized on the opportunities.

"Talking about our defense? There was none," Julien said when asked about the breakdowns. "The way we played tonight, we gave them their goals. There was no question about that. The turnovers from our Ds, the types of goals we gave them were certainly disappointing for our team tonight.

"It wasn't a very good game for us to end with before the break, there's no doubt," Julien added. "The positive thing is we have five days to think about that and hopefully come back refreshed, rejuvenated and playing with a lot more energy. We were slow again tonight on the puck and certainly a half step behind for most of the night. You're not going to win hockey games like that.

"Bottom line is we've got to play better and we know that. Saying that is one thing -- you've got to make sure you make it happen and hopefully a week from now that will happen."

When the game was over, most players did their normal postgame routines and prepared for the much-needed break. Patrice Bergeron, however, looked quite upset about the loss and jumped on a stationary bike to work off the frustration.

"We need to take these five days, make the most of it, come back and be ready for a great end of the season," Bergeron said. "That's going to be real important."

The Bruins have always been a team that does a good job of erasing possible distractions and usually can keep what's on the outside, on the outside. All the discussion surrounding the team because of Thomas's decision to skip the White House visit, citing his political beliefs, could have had an effect on the up-and-down effort by the Bruins on Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day, Julien explained that his team is a mature group that won't allow outside distractions to affect its game. Thomas did not play but that had nothing to do with his decision or comments. It made sense to give Tuukka Rask, who has played well, the start in the last game before the break and give Thomas the night off since he'll be participating in the All-Star festivities.

Rask said he wasn't distracted by any of it.

"I think we've been good at that throughout the years I've been here," Rask said. "We haven't had any problems. We're a tight group of guys and usually we don't let these things affect us."

It was only the second time this season Rask has allowed four goals in a game.

"We've played some good hockey recently and got our game back on track," Rask said. "Even today, we played a pretty good game but it was a tough night for me and that's about it."

The Bruins leave the nation's capital with new nicknames (see Brad Marchand and the Little Ball of Hate) and a bit of controversy. More importantly, Boston leaves with a loss before the break.

"I'd rather leave with a good taste in my mouth for five days than a bad taste," forward Shawn Thornton said. "It's a lot more enjoyable."

The Bruins learned last season what type of hockey they need to play for the stretch run. And if they're successful, maybe they'll be back at the White House again next year.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.