BOSTON – With Montreal on a power play late in the second period of Sunday night’s game, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference turned the puck over behind the net to Max Pacioretty, who passed right to an open Brendan Gallagher waiting at the top of the crease. The misplay by Ference behind the net would have cost the Bruins a goal (and a 3-2 lead at the time) if not for the diving effort of Tuukka Rask, who bailed out Ference by belly-flopping onto the loose puck.
But Rask could not bail out the Bruins all night, and thus Ference’s poor performance highlighted an underwhelming display of defense overall for the Bruins as they fell, 4-3, to the Canadiens at TD Garden.
While coach Claude Julien was not singling out any defenseman by name after the game, he said he was not satisfied with his team’s performance in its own zone Sunday night.
“For some reason passes weren’t as crisp coming out of our own end on a lot of occasions and it kind of got us in trouble a little bit,” Julien said. “I just felt that defensively when there were some breakdowns we weren’t really there to cover their mistakes and pucks ended up in our net.”
Ference struggled from start to finish Sunday night. Although he was not on the ice for the first goal of the game, a power-play tally for Montreal, he was a part of the problem since it was his penalty that had the Bruins shorthanded in the first place.
In the second period, Ference continued his penalty troubles when he took an ill-advised cross-checking penalty 50 seconds into a Bruins penalty kill to leave Boston two men down for 1:10. While the Bruins managed to kill off the 5-on-3 and the extra 50 seconds of Ference’s penalty in that situation, the extra energy exerted on that penalty kill could not have helped a Bruins team that was playing its third game in four days.
The extended penalty kill proved even more costly energy-wise when, just a few minutes after Ference got out of the box, Zdeno Chara was charged with 17 total penalty minutes after taking exception to an Alexei Emelin hit on Tyler Seguin.
The already-struggling Bruins defense deflated without its captain, and Boston surrendered both the game-tying and game-winning goals with Chara still in the box.
Ference was right in the middle of the action on the Canadiens’ game-winning goal. When Rask dove out to his right to gather a loose puck, Ference wedged his way behind the goaltender and also dove to the right. Instead of nudging the puck away, however, Ference whiffed on the play, thereby failing to prevent a second or third chance for the Canadiens on the play while also stopping his goalie from getting in a position where he could make a save on a rebound.
Ference did not speak to the media after the game, but his teammates accepted full responsibility for the defensive breakdowns that led the Canadiens to victory and refused to use Chara’s extended absence as an excuse.
“We should have done the job [despite losing Chara for 17 minutes],” said Patrice Bergeron. “It was pretty much playing our game, but we gave them those second and third chances that usually we don’t give to players in front of the net. Tuukka [Rask] made some good saves, but we couldn’t be there for that second rebound.”
For Ference and the entire Bruins defensive corps, mistakes this season have largely been masked by wins, as the Bruins have an almost Blackhawks-like ability to pull wins out of games in which they do not necessarily play their best. After Sunday night’s loss cost the Bruins a game against their bitter rival and a chance at first place in the division, however, rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton said the Bruins defense will take a closer look at the mistakes they made and figure out how to remedy them in the future.
“Sometimes you think it might be a little bit easy and I think tonight you kind of realized that it takes a lot of focus and a lot of hard work in the third to hold on, so we just have to remember that and move forward doing that,” Hamilton said. “We can learn from it, and when you lose, you spend more time trying to learn, so maybe we’ll be able to learn from it and get better.”