Thornton

Thornton

BOSTON — This is what it’s come to with the Boston Bruins.

Even when their 10-game overall winning streak and 14-game run of home dominance ends in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, they don’t go down in flames — they go down fighting

It’s a tribute to the current band of Black and Gold-wearing skaters that their ‘B’ or even ‘C’ game can keep them within striking distance and a bounce here or there of grabbing a point in the standings (if not two).

Even after losing today at TD Banknorth Garden, the Bruins are 11-3-2 when they allow the first goal (.688 winning percentage). Without an even-strength point from their second or third line, the Bruins still mustered enough offense (including a goal by tough guy Shawn Thornton) to climb back from two goals to one goal down twice. And it took a career offensive night from Buffalo fourth-line center Matt Ellis (two goals, one assist) and a couple fortunate bounces in front of Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas to lift the Sabres over the Eastern  Conference leaders.

In past years — including many of their defeats last season — when the Bruins lost, they were thoroughly outplayed. Cries for more girt, more determination and harder working ruminated throughout the locker room. Now, on the rare occassion they drop a game, the Bruins point to a missed empty net here, a puck that missed a stick by an inch there. It’s a sign of their maturation into one of the NHL’s elite that there’s a consistency level to their effort that never wavers enough to cost them a chance at winning.

Today Marc Savard was a major culprit in the failed-opportunity department.

“They came out having a good start against us. It seemed like the last time they were here they did the same thing. They sat back in the third, which gave us opportunities, but we lost the game in the first and second,” mused Savard, who still registered an assist in the defeat. “We had some empty nets, I had two empty nets and I didn’t put them in. … We could’ve easily won this game if we had buried our chances.”

P.J. Axelsson also slapped one off the side of the net with Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller out of position, and a number of passes to players in scoring positions took bad hops or were just a second too late or too early. But that’s a lot better those chances not existing or an opponent storming into the Garden and burying the Bruins before the first period-ending horn sounds, as was the case too many times between the lockout and the start of this season.

If the Bruins were getting a little bit of swelled-head disease because of all their winning, it’ll surely pass now. At least it will if defenseman Shane Hnidy has anything to say about it.

“We’ve got to regroup here, let this sink in and realize we can’t take time off in games. Guys are gunning for us and that’s what happens when you’re a successful team,” Hnidy said.

Let those words sit there for a minute or two — “a successful team.” Win or lose, that’s what the Bruins are right now.