threes_company_s01BOSTON — Don’t you find it ironic that on the night the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins could’ve clinched a playoff berth with a mere two points, they turned in another performance that makes you think their inevitable appearance in the postseason will last about as long as their third-period lead against the Los Angeles Kings survived.

The Bruins’ 3-2 overtime loss to LA was like the “Three’s Company”  episode with the misunderstanding in it, Jay Leno’s Michael Jackson jokes and Bruce Springsteen songs about going to the Jersey shore — played out. Sure you might chuckle at them, or even revel in the nostalgia of it all, but you don’t want to make a habit out of listening to or watching them.

Unfortunately for Boston, the Bruins are making a habit of playing their NHL games as though they’re meaningless. Sometimes you can’t tell if this team is trying to win the Eastern Conference’s top seed or go on an early vacation this spring. The last 60-minute effort might’ve actually come while ‘W’ was  in office.

Even in their wins, the Bruins look disinterested for stretches. They should never have let Ottawa back in the game after taking a three-goal lead last Thursday. They should’ve been able to bury the New York Islanders rather than settling for a one-goal victory. And you don’t even have time to look for all the trouble spots in Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh.

The latest chapter, same as the previous chapters, in the Bruins’ once dreamy season involves a 2-0 third period lead on Los Angeles,  four fruitless power plays that could’ve put the game out of reach and too many failed breakouts and scoring opportunities to count before LA evened the score and then cashed in on a rebound in the final minute of overtime to leave town with the extra point.

You really have to start to wonder now, were the first three months of this season a mirage? Did general manager Peter Chiarelli make a huge gaffe by not throwing caution to the wind and swinging a bigger deal than the minor ones he brought Mark Recchi and Steve Montador to town with? Is this team just not good enough to grab home-ice throughout the conference playoffs and maybe even make a sustained postseason run (which would require the first playoff series win in the Hub in a decade)?

You learn a lot about players when the chips are down, when the heat is on and times are tough. If all it takes is one or two failed power plays, one third-period Kings goal or one or two bad penalty calls (like in Pittsburgh) to flush this team’s fundamentals down the drain, then maybe we’ve been fooling ourselves for a few months here. Maybe the desire to have a championship-caliber hockey club in Boston again went to our heads. After all, 12 months ago we didn’t know if the Bruins were going to make the playoffs. Was it unrealistic to think they could go from just-in participants to playoff dominators in one year? Maybe.

The New Jersey Devils are in town Sunday. The Boston lead is down to four points as of now and could be as small as two by the time the puck drops. by the same token, they could have that playoff spot clinched. They could be  on the precipice of a division title. But it won’t matter. When you’re in first place this long and suddenly grasping to your position like it’s laced with petroleum jelly, there’s nothing to celebrate.

The only thing worth clinching for this team is first overall in the conference and then a postseason series. Anything less will be considered par for the “same old Bruins.” If this team is different, it will respond right now. Or else they’ll have plenty time to watch old sitcoms, late-night talk shows and listen to aged rockers.