Bruins get conservative, lose two-goal lead in final seven minutes

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

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PITTSBURGH -- The Boston Bruins are considered to be one of the best defensive teams in the NHL for a reason. Entering Tuesday's game in Pittsburgh they were third in the NHL in goals against and allowing the ninth fewest shots per game.

Obviously, that's a stingy team.

But sometimes they might get a little too carried away with playing defense in their own zone and collapsing in around their own net to protect a lead, and forget that you can't always go into a shell offensively and allow the other team to control the play in your end of the ice.

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Sometimes it's better to play defense by trying to play a little more offense.

That had to be the lesson following their 3-2 loss against the Penguins, a game that saw them allow three goals in the final six minutes of regulation after going in to a passive shell for the final two-and-a-half periods.

For much of the game the Bruins were clinging to a two-goal lead they built in the first 13 minutes and did little to try to add to it after that.

We know that teams get outshot more in games when they're up by two goals (it's called score effects) but this wasn't all just about that. This was a team that didn't even seem interested in trying to gain the offensive zone for the majority of the game.

After their second goal the Bruins generated just 11 shots on goal -- and almost no quality scoring chances -- over the final 47 minutes of the game as they spent most of the night pinned in their own zone, desperately throwing themselves in front of shot attempts and relying on backup goaltender Anton Khudobin to, pretty much, bail them out.

And for a while he was up to the task.

But against a team like Pittsburgh that's capable of scoring goals in bunches, that's also a risky strategy when you give them that many opportunities to break through. The best way to beat the Penguins isn't to defend them -- it's to make them play defense.

Boston did not do that, and the the floodgates opened for Pittsburgh.

With less than seven minutes to play Chris Kunitz scored his 18th goal of the season, which was quickly followed by a pair of goals from Brandon Sutter to give Pittsburgh a come-from-behind win and a huge two points in the race for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Blowing leads is something that isn't totally new to the Bruins this season, even with their impressive record. Entering Tuesday's game, only seven teams in the NHL had a worse winning percentage than Boston when leading after two periods, and that percentage only went down after this loss.

"It sucks," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic after the game. "We have to learn from it, again. It's happened to us too many times lately where we've blown leads going into the third period, so we have to learn.

"I think we needed to do more to put the puck at the net and get more guys going to the net," Lucic added when asked about their play over the second and third periods. "That's the way we get most of our offense. You need everyone to step up and produce unfortunately we didn't have that tonight."

Even though the Bruins held the lead for most of the night it was hard to argue they were the better team on the ice. Pittsburgh was dominating the shot chart, generating 34 shots on goal to Boston's 16 for the game. The total shot attempts (goals, saves, misses, and blocks) were 68-41 in favor of the Penguins, indicating a ridiculously one-sided game that was played in the Boston end of the ice.

"We know their style is back pressure," Kunitz said. "Push guys down into the zone and their D are going to back off. They give you the shots from the outside, but we were looking for passes off the pads and trying to get stuff in the slot, but they did a great job clearing it out. We knew we needed to put a lot of pucks toward them and they might get outshot a lot of games, but they have the great structure and it took us a while to break it."

The biggest difference through the first 53 minutes was the play of Khudobin in the Boston net as he stopped a number of odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances from directly in front. It felt like if Pittsburgh could keep up that pace one of two things was going to happen: Pittsburgh would finally break through and maybe string a couple of goals together, or Khudobin was going to be responsible for stealing his team two points.

It turned out to be the former, and for the Penguins, their second come-from-behind win in their past four games.

"It feels good," Kunitz said. "We had some pressure, we had some chances. It took almost 35 shots to get one past their goalie but I think it's a great learning step for us to play 55 minutes without a goal and just keep coming and be able to get three quick ones and turn the tide of the game."

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