TORONTO - The Boston Bruins let one get away.
Clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins had the lead three different times in Toronto on Tuesday night, but ultimately lost 4-3 when Maple Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin scored with 50 seconds remaining in overtime.
"It's my job to preserve the lead when we have it, and I failed at that tonight," said disappointed Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who started his fourth consecutive game in the Bruins' net for the first time since mid-December.
Boston, which finished first in the East in the regular season last year, salvaged a single point with the overtime loss, but the Bruins can't afford to give anything away as the NHL schedule heads into the home stretch.
"It was a huge point that we let get away from us tonight, and we need them all," said Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 13th goal of the season. "We've got 17 games left and we know we're in the playoff race...We can't lose points like that."
The Bruins dropped to 29-24-12 on the season, good for 70 points, and trail sixth-place Philadelphia (35-26-4, 74 points) and seventh-place Montreal (33-29-6, 72 points) in the East standings. Boston has the chance to make up some ground, however, as they head to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers on Thursday and then travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Saturday.
"We're right in the middle of it right now," Bergeron said. "We play Philadelphia and Montreal next and we need to win those games. We're in the race."
Bruins winger Marco Sturm, who played on a line with Bergeron and Mark Recchi and collected his 20th goal of the season against Toronto, agreed with his centre's assessment.
"We had the lead pretty much the whole game, but couldn't hold on to it and then get that next goal," Sturm said. "Turnovers again. Our mistakes cost us goals against and we have to find a way to stop that.
"But we've just got to keep moving forward, there's no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to get our heads up and get ready for Philadelphia."
The Bruins are victims of untimely injury woes. Norris Trophy-winning defenceman and captain Zdeno Chara (lower body) and No. 1 playmaking centre Marc Savard (concussion) are both out.
Compounding matters is the fact the Bruins are in the middle of a seven-game road trip, the franchise's longest stretch away from home since February of 2004.
For the lowest-scoring club in the NHL (160 goals in 65 games) the timing of the trip isn't ideal.
But Bruins coach Claude Julien said his team has to learn to roll with the punches. and
"That's the way it goes sometimes," Julien said. "We hit a couple of posts tonight and had some good chances. You try to work with the breaks, but tonight they got the last break."