Let's face facts: what happened to the Bruins on Thursday night was a long time coming. For too many games, they'd been on cruise control for entire periods and coasting with the lead instead of trying to build it and put their foot on the throats of their opposition like they'd done in the first four weeks of the season.
Against inferior opposition, the Bruins would skate around for 40 minutes, expecting their vaunted third period to buoy them to two points, except that vaunted third period just wasn't showing up like it had in November and December.
Sure, they won some games and in spite of their often lackadaisical efforts, the team is 8-5-1 since the calendar turned to 2012, a clip that would translate to a 100-point season and a surefire playoff spot (Boston won the Northeast with 103 points, seven ahead of Montreal in 2011). But that was pedestrian compared to their 21-3-1 November and December (a 141-point pace if it continued for an entire season).
And it's not just Carolina - whom the Bruins laid four consecutive stinkers against this year, getting swept by the Carolina/Hartford franchise for the first time ever - that's been able to get under Boston's skin. For some reason, the Bruins defensemen suddenly struggle against a strong opposing forecheck. Their defense isn't muscling teams out of the goal area as well as they once were and they are again struggling to find their edge in games that aren't overwhelmingly physical battles.
A month ago, you'd have heard the suggestion that Boston look for help at the trade deadline as malarkey, a traitorous suggestion at best, and all the experts on Twitter would have had the person making the suggestion lynched.
Yet here we are, at the beginning of February, and the suggestion that Brad Marchand go to Montreal for P.K. Subban doesn't seem so far-fetched, the notion that some of the P-Bruins top talent (which is underperforming as a unit yet again) may be needing to pull out their frequent flyer cards soon.
The Bruins have a lot of talent in the pipeline - Peter Chiarelli has done an all-world job of ensuring that. They could make moves. With Nathan Horton's health in serious question, the Bruins could use another top-six forward. They could use another top-four defenseman, especially because Joe Corvo just doesn't seem to be buying into the "defense" part of his position and the Bruins are going to need somebody on the second pairing come April, when Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are paired together.
And yet, with the trade deadline just over three weeks away, these Bruins have a chance to show that they're perfectly fine as constituted - the Horton situation notwithstanding.
They could start that today against a streaking Pittsburgh team that's turned around a seven-game losing streak and has won eight of its last ten, despite still having no idea if they'll ever see Sidney Crosby again.
And it would make sense if they did - after all, Boston has done a lot of playing on its opponent's level lately, which is something that should still prove scary for any team that might run into them in the playoffs. Pittsburgh's approach isn't exactly like Carolina's; the Penguins don't sit back and wait for you to do something wrong, they try to force the issue and in the process will make a few mistakes of their own.
But mistakes or no mistakes, Crosby or no Crosby, these Penguins are a very good team. And so, too, are the Bruins four opponents after that - Washington has been much improved of late, Buffalo continues to under-perform, and the Predators and Rangers are two of hockey's best teams.
If there's even been a time to turn around a mid-season lull, it's now. And if it doesn't happen...
Well, we all know what happens then.