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The Bruins' reality check is getting a bit too real: "We've been breaking"

BOSTON -- It starts with the obvious: No, the Boston Bruins are in no real danger of losing much of anything with regard to their playoff positioning. Their historic start ensured that as long as the equipment manager supplies them with skates and sticks each night, they'll comfortably skate into the top seed while getting some new embroidery on the Presidents' Trophy banner at TD Garden. That's not really in question.

What is in question, though, is whether this current slump for the best team in hockey is the result of an understandable drop in energy and focus, or whether it's something more problematic.

Tuesday night was perhaps the lowest point of the current 1-3-0 stretch, as the Bruins entered Chicago after an ugly road loss in Detroit on Sunday. Given the veteran-laden roster and the way the team has imposed itself on opponents all year, Tuesday looked like the ideal opportunity for a get-right game. The Blackhawks entered the night with the worst offense in the NHL while allowing the eighth-most goals in the league. The Blackhawks had lost three straight games and seven of their last eight, dating back to late February. They were tied with the Sharks for the second-lowest point total in the league, in a four-team battle (Anaheim and Columbus are also involved) to finish the year with the worst record in the NHL.

To put it lightly, Chicago was a soft landing for the scuffling B's.

But watching the game, you'd never know it. MacKenzie Entwistle capitalized on poor puck management from Conor Clifton and David Pastrnak late in the first period before outhustling a confused Clifton for the first goal of the game. The Bruins didn't score a goal until the 35th minute of the game, and they surrendered a goal just 1:34 after knotting the game at 1-1. Similarly, after the Bruins took a 3-2 lead early in the third on a fortunate bounce off a Chicago skate, the Blackhawks scored the tying goal just 53 seconds later.

Chicago poured it on with three more goals, the last of which being an empty-netter that officially sunk the Bruins' chances in a 6-3 game where they barely even competed.

Linus Ullmark allowed five goals on just 28 shots, only the second time the presumed Vezina winner has allowed more than three goals in a game all year. It could have been worse, too, as Chicago broke free for a couple of unsuccessful breakaways. Clifton and Derek Forbort were both a minus-3. Pastrnak lost the puck on a penalty shot that could have cut Chicago's lead to one. The power play was 0-for-2. The penalty kill allowed a goal.

The best players weren't great, and the rest of the roster wasn't much better. Afterward, the Bruins offered some pretty blunt assessments of their situation.

"I think right now we're disconnected, we're not playing the right way -- we're cheating, and I think this league is gonna humble you if you don't do that," captain Patrice Bergeron said. "So that's what we're getting right now."

"Nobody's doing their job the best they can right now," Charlie Coyle said. "It's our starts. Our starts are kind of killing us. It got covered up there that first Detroit game because we ended up winning, so maybe you don't think about it as much. And then that next game, same thing: bad start and we were behind the 8-ball. Again, today it probably could have been a little better as well. It's a shame because there's no excuse for that. We had the day off yesterday. You should be coming in and ready to go and have that great start. And it's not gonna happen every time, but we can't be shooting ourselves in the foot and getting behind the 8-ball like that."

Head coach Jim Montgomery agreed with Coyle in that there was no reason for the Bruins to be lagging when they hit the ice on Tuesday night. Montgomery said the Bruins' other slump this season -- a 1-3-1 stretch in late January/early February -- was the result of the players being a bit worn out.

"This one, there's no reason for physical fatigue. And we look like we're tired," Montgomery said. "Turnovers, habits that have been ingrained in us in part of our process. It always comes back to that process, which is we're not at the net front, we're not boxing out at our net front, we're giving up more odd-man rushes than we're getting, lot of things that we're not doing well as a group right now."

The Bruins, quite obviously, have not done a lot of losing this season. Despite the skid, they're still 50-11-5 on the season, with a league-best plus-100 goal differential. New Jersey ranks second, at plus-55.

A part of that success has been the team's ability to come back after falling behind, but Coyle noted that's not a reliable strategy for consistency.

"We pride ourselves on being a team that can come back, but you can't be doing that every night and expect to be playing that way," Coyle said.

Montgomery and Bergeron put things simply, too.

"I think we just gotta get back to our standards," Montgomery said. "And our standards are that we're gonna start games well, we're gonna play well for 60 minutes. We might bend at times, but we don't break. And we've been breaking."

"I think for us, like we've done all year, we've gotta look at ourselves in the mirror," Bergeron said. "We know that it's not good enough and we need to go back to what's successful to us and what's been good to us all year. So a lot of things that we can learn from these past couple games."

Those games include a rare home dud vs. Edmonton, a comeback win over Detroit on Saturday, and a pair of ugly road losses against non-playoff teams in Detroit and Chicago.

One particular point of education comes from the power play, where the insertion of Dmitry Orlov has not helped the top unit and where the usage of Tyler Bertuzzi on the second unit hasn't produced much either. Boston's power play has scored on just 11.1 percent of chances dating back to Jan. 23. It's been successful on 13.8 percent of opportunities since acquiring Orlov and 11.8 percent of opportunities since acquiring Bertuzzi.

For a power-play unit that scored on 27 percent of opportunities from the start of the season through late January, Montgomery either has to go with a complete overhaul or just trust that the players will get back to playing the way they know. Evidence is mounting that the latter strategy is not resolving itself. The Bruins are just 1-for-11 on the power play during the 1-3-0 streak, and they've given up a pair of shorthanded goals. The penalty kill has operated at just 55.6 percent, too,

But the issues extend beyond special teams, as Boston's been outscored 16-10 at 5-on-5. While Orlov has produced at a high rate since being acquired, the constant state of flux on the blue line has disrupted the Bruins' stability. Montgomery may have to make a difficult decision or two about sitting a D-man for an extended time instead of cycling through the off nights on the back end.

Up front, the only real juggling has been Bertuzzi spending some time in Jake DeBrusk's spot on the top line. But the issues offensively appear to be more tied to execution and puck management than chemistry, so the fix with that very experienced group is probably quite simple. They have to play smarter, and they have to play better.

Given the track record and the team record, it's likely that they will. But the road will not get easy for a long time. The five-game road trip continues with games in Winnipeg on Thursday, Minnesota on Saturday, and Buffalo on Sunday. The Bruins won't get two consecutive days off until they finish their game on April 2, which will be the conclusion of a stretch with 15 games in 25 days.

A week or two ago, that stretch looked like the opportunity for the Bruins to rest their veterans and start mentally preparing for the postseason, which is obviously the point of the whole season. But things have changed, and while they're still a ways off from setting off any panic alarms, it's clear that the Bruins have a bit of work ahead of them.

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