Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman wrapped his partner Linus Ullmark in a massive bear hug after the final buzzer sounded.
Ullmark, for his NHL-leading 16th win, had to turn aside breakaways from Golden Knights left wing William Carrier and defenseman Ben Hutton. He stopped two good looks from center Jake Leschyshyn on the same shift. He watched a shot from defenseman Daniil Miromanov hit the post.
The Knights, despite being without several of their best players Sunday, had their chances in their second game in seven days against the Bruins. They just didn’t finish enough against the team with the best record in the league.
The result was a hard-fought 3-1 loss in front of an announced crowd of 18,114 at T-Mobile Arena. The Knights finished their three-game homestand with four goals, only one of which came at five-on-five.
“We’ve got to get a little bit more of that swagger back with our five-man unit,” captain Mark Stone said. “We’re kind of forechecking as one, and teams are getting off a little too easy on us right now.”
Sunday’s game was always going to be a challenge for the Knights (20-9-1), who fell to 8-7 at home.
They played without center Jack Eichel (lower-body injury), defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (personal reasons) and defenseman Shea Theodore, who was injured in Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
That removed a lot of firepower from their lineup. Eichel leads the Knights with 13 goals and 29 points. Theodore is tied for third on the team with 22 points, and Pietrangelo is fifth with 21.
The Knights still were able to take a 1-0 lead 4:03 into the first period thanks to a power-play goal for Stone. They didn’t score again despite generating good looks against the No. 1 defense in the NHL in goals against per game.
Boston (22-4-1) tied the game with a goal from center Patrice Bergeron 3:54 into the second period. Right wing Jake DeBrusk put the Bruins ahead 2-1 after an incredible pass from center Pavel Zacha 2:10 into the third, and center Charlie Coyle added an insurance goal 6:54 later.
Ullmark finished with 30 saves to earn the embrace from Swayman. The Knights, after defeating the Bruins 4-3 in a shootout in coach Bruce Cassidy’s return to Boston on Dec. 5, settled for a split of the season series.
“When you get into those type of games with a team as good as Boston with all the depth they have, the margins become slimmer when you’re missing some of your guys who are difference-makers,” Cassidy said. “Guys can feel good about their effort and their compete against a good hockey club, but when you lose, there’s no moral victories in that regard.”
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
1. Absences mount
The Knights, already short-handed, went down another man 1:37 into the second period.
Left wing Taylor Hall crashed into defenseman Zach Whitecloud’s right leg fighting for a loose puck on the power play. Whitecloud was assisted off the ice by centers William Karlsson and Nicolas Roy. He never returned, forcing the Knights to play with five defensemen the rest of the game.
Cassidy didn’t have an update on Whitecloud afterward. The Knights were down all three of their opening-night right-side defensemen without Pietrangelo, Theodore and Whitecloud.
“It was a little bit different,” Hutton said. “But at the same time, I felt as a corps we were doing well. We were talking, breaking out pretty good.”
2. Special teams gives boost
The Knights’ special teams did step up with the team failing to produce at five-on-five.
Their power play scored against the NHL’s No. 1 penalty kill despite Eichel and Theodore being removed from the top unit. The Knights finished 1-for-4 with seven shots. They also didn’t give up a goal on the man advantage to Boston’s third-ranked unit despite taking two minor penalties.
3. Home struggles
The Knights have gone 1-2 in three consecutive homestands. They’ve been outscored 28-19 over those nine games.
The team’s difficulties are puzzling when compared with its record away from home. The Knights have scored the most road goals in the NHL (60) in 15 games. They’ve scored the 27th-most at home (36) in the same number of contests.