Boston Bruins’ Hangover Part II: It may just cost them division title vs. Ottawa Senators

It's the cyclical disposition of the NHL. It's the distraction from the Tim Thomas vs. White House controversy. It's the Nathan Horton injury. It's the fact that Bostonian teams are apparently prone to epic collapses.

The theories, they are many when it comes to the Boston Bruins; losers of three straight games for the first time since October and having been defeated in five of eight games in March.

They've been unable to shake the Ottawa Senators for the better part of the last month; the division lead remains at two points with a Boston game in-hand. But DJ Bean of WEEI thinks the Bruins are trending down to the No. 7 seed … and perhaps even further:

Things need to happen for that to take place, of course. Essentially, the Bruins need to lose games and the Senators need to win games. Based on some very scientific research (watching the Bruins), the B's certainly look capable of doing their part, while the Senators have found new life playing in front of young goaltender Ben Bishop.

Bean and others have their theories at to why the Bruins have been the complete opposite of the team that looked unbeatable three months ago. Here's one to ponder: Like a national recession, the Bruins have had a double-dip Stanley Cup Hangover.

That's Joe Haggerty's take, at least. After an October when "hangover" was used to describe their lackluster play, the Bruins righted the ship. Now, it's happening again.

From the CSN New England hockey scribe:

"It appears the Bruins have been the midst of another Cup hangover since January, and this one hasn't been nearly as merciful as that short 10-game burst at the season's outset. If October was the immediate nausea and violent illness following an all-night bender, then the Bruins are now fighting through a foggy-headed hangover funk that's been lingering since January.  "

Worst yet: Stu has a Mike Tyson face tattoo, there's a chain-smoking monkey and it looks like Leslie Chow OD'd …

But seriously: The Bruins have been looking exhausted, physically and more importantly mentally. They're not answering the bell, falling behind early in games —they've won just seven of 24 games in which they've trailed after the first period.

From Haggerty:

The "fatigue factor" is most glaringly obvious with 37-year-old Tim Thomas flailing away between the pipes, but it's a malady that seems to be affecting the entire roster from top to bottom.

"The thing that keeps coming up right now — and the thing I can sense — is that fatigue is setting in," said Julien of a team that has played a lot of hockey over the last two seasons. "It's the biggest challenge I have now. We're not playing well and you've got the fatigue factor, too."

But it's not as much the final results as the way they're losing. For the fourth time in the last six games, the Bruins simply weren't ready to play when the opening puck was dropped and fell behind 2-0 in the first period.

That was on Marty Turco, of course, who was yanked in favor of Thomas. But Thomas has also been a source of frustration and a lightning rod for criticism — fairly or unfairly. From Kirk Minihane of WEEI:

It's an easy out to blame the White House snub, it gives a name and face to the what has happened to Thomas. But it's not the truth. Thomas didn't fall off a statistical cliff on January 23, he was already tumbling. His save percentage and GAA were actually better in February than January, which pretty much eliminates any idea that the controversy was any real factor.

But that doesn't change the reality. Thomas has been an average NHL goaltender for almost three months (and a terrible one in March), and the Bruins have been a .500 team.

Eric Wilbur of the Boston Globe is willing to consider a second hangover; but more to the point, he's increasingly less willing to consider the Boston Bruins as Stanley Cup contenders:

There's a lack of balance ever since losing Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley to injuries that I'm not sure the Bruins can recover from. Maybe they can win a round in the playoffs. Two? It seems to be asking too much. It took three Game 7's last year to bring home the hardware, and Thomas just looks like a different goalie a year later, overworked and just not as sharp as during the amazing run of 2011.

Of course, there were times when this team looked terrible last season, too. Hell, they looked terrible in the postseason at times, and ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

The Bruins will be a playoff team. Maybe not a division champion, but a playoff team. Then everything depends on matchups, health and Tim Thomas (or Tuukka Rask, depending on his injury rehab). The can beat Ottawa, Florida, Washington or Winnipeg in the first round; the four vs. five series is a little trickier.

I still wouldn't want to face them in a seven-game first round series; but the B's have certainly lost that vibe of invincibility … and any semblance of inevitability as a conference finalist.

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