Commentary

Bruins teetering on edge

If Claude Julien's troops don't regain form, they'll tumble out of the playoff picture

Updated: March 17, 2012, 1:14 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

Believe it or not, the Boston Bruins could be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time in coach Claude Julien's tenure.

It's a difficult concept to accept, given the fact that the defending Stanley Cup champions were the best team in the NHL for more than two months earlier this season. The Bruins are in the midst of a four-game losing skid, the worst of the season, and there are only 12 games remaining in the 2011-12 campaign.

The Bruins (83 points) dropped from second to seventh in the Eastern Conference on Friday night, when the Ottawa Senators (84 points) beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in overtime to take over the top spot in the Northeast Division.

The Bruins are pressing, and that's evident with the team's overall subpar play.

[+] EnlargeClaude Julien
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesClaude Julien and the Bruins are searching for solutions after giving up six goals in each of the past two games.

"I don't think it takes a genius to understand that it's a little rattled right now," Julien said. "But at the same time, this is the majority of the group that showed resilience last year when we went through some tough times. We did get ourselves out of it, and I have no doubt that we will. This is our battle to fight and nobody else's, and you have to have confidence in your group, and we do. I think experience, and the past, shows that this is a group that can do it."

Last season at this point, the Bruins were 39-22-10. Currently, they're 40-27-3.

The Bruins are hurting. Injuries are costing the team. Along with forwards Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee), goaltender Tuukka Rask is sidelined with an abdominal/groin strain.

Peverley, who was injured Feb. 15 and was scheduled to miss four to six weeks, began skating Wednesday.

"First couple of days were kind of just getting back into it," Peverley said. "Today was a little bit harder, a little longer, and I felt pretty good on the ice. It's just about taking gradual steps."

As a result of Rask's injury, starter Tim Thomas has played in the past 11 games (nine starts). He's played a total of 51 games this season. Thomas finished the 2010-11 regular season with a 35-11-9 record with nine shutouts in 57 games.

Even though Thomas is fighting it a little right now, he's not getting too much help in front of him.

Boston has struggled defensively. It has allowed 12 goals in the past two games and 21 in the past four, which is almost unheard of by such a defensive-minded team.

Offensively, the team's depth is suddenly kaput. The lineup, once potent from top to bottom, has been lacking as Boston has scored only eight goals in the past four games.

The Bruins are struggling on the power play, too. In the past seven games, Boston is 1-for-15 on the man advantage.

There's no doubt this team is in a slump. There's only one way to break out of it.

"Right now it's all about attitude," Julien said. "How you look at the situation is very important, and you have to look at it in a way where you're determined to get yourself out of it, you're going to do the things you have to do to succeed, and right now we have to challenge ourselves as a group to be able to turn the page. Tomorrow's not just another day, it's another opportunity, and this is our chance to go out there and play the way we know we can."

The Bruins remained in Florida after Thursday's loss and traveled back to Boston on Friday morning. Julien still conducted practice at Ristuccia Arena in the afternoon, and the team worked on getting more of a net-front presence. Julien also didn't want the Bruins to come out sluggish Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, so that was another reason for the practice after the road trip.

"We're trying to put the odds on [our] side the best we can," Julien said.

The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Bruins in the final 12 games of the regular season. Boston hosts Philadelphia in a St. Patrick's Day matinee Saturday at TD Garden. Then the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town Monday before the Bruins set out on a three-game road trip through San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

When a team struggles like the Bruins are, especially at this time of the season, the players' mindset could be focused on just getting into the playoffs and then going from there. Earning that postseason berth, however, will be a challenge given the current state of the Bruins.

"Not that they've forgotten, but it's all about confidence, and we have to get confident and trust in each other again like we used to," Julien said.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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