For one reason or another the Buffalo Sabres, currently in last place in the Eastern Conference, are usually up to the task whenever the Boston Bruins are around. That reason used to be Thomas Vanek, but even with the former 40-goal scorer shipped off to Long Island, the Black and Gold always seem to have a nemesis or two in Blue and Gold. Last night it was Ryan Miller, who stopped 34 of 36 Boston shots including 15 in the third period to lead the Sabres to just their ninth win in 35 games this season. Brad Marchand was the only Bruin to solve the likely starter for Team USA in this February’s Olympics, doing it twice for his sixth and seventh goals of the year. Chad Johnson took the loss in the Boston net.
The Boston Bruins did what they were supposed to do tonight in Buffalo, beating the bottom dwelling Sabres by a score of 5-2. Milan Lucic and Torey Krug each scored twice, while Chad Johnson made his debut in the Boston net and stopped 14 shots for the victory. Unfortunately, a third period cheap shot by John Scott on B’s forward Loui Eriksson will likely steal the headlines on the night, potentially a huge blow for the Black and Gold as they head home to take on the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night.
The Black and Gold were back at Ristuccia Arena today for one more practice before jumping a plane up to Buffalo for tomorrow night’s game with the Sabres, the front half of the team’s first back-to-back games of the season. They’ll be back at the Garden on Thursday to host the red hot San Jose Sharks, the only remaining team in the NHL without a regulation loss.
Last night’s game at the Garden between the Bruins and Sabres was about more than hockey, it was about a city and its people coming together in a first step towards healing. And as far as that goes, the night was a complete victory. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they couldn’t hold it together on the ice, blowing yet another third period lead and falling in the shootout.
The night got off to an emotional start, as a ‘Boston Strong’ montage was followed by a moving rendition of the National Anthem by the Rene Rancourt and the Boston crowd.
The start of the game reflected the heavy weight that was present in the building, as both teams were a little tentative after the opening faceoff. But the energy quickly returned when Daniel Paille buried a Chris Kelly net front pass to give the Bruins the early lead just six minutes in.
The Sabres would rebound before the end of the period as, to the surprise of no one, Sabres forward Thomas Vanek tipped in a Christian Ehrhoff shot past B’s goalie Anton Khudobin to tie the game. It was Vanek’s 17th goal and his sixth point in four games against the Bruins this year.
The Bruins battled back in the second and it was the Paille, Kelly and Nathan Horton line at it again, with Kelly doing the honors this time. Some good work at the point by Andrew Ference kept a bouncing puck in the zone, and Paille fired a quick cross crease pass to Kelly who flipped a soft shot over the pads of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.
It appeared as though the Bruins would be able to hold the 2-1 lead as the clock ticked all the way down to the one minute mark of the third period. But a bouncing puck in the Boston defensive end was swatted out of play by Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference with just 48 seconds to play, earning an automatic delay of game penalty. The Sabres then capitalized as a Steve Ott faceoff win was fired towards the net by Vanek, hitting the skates of Sabres forward Cody Hodgson before trickling into the net.
The teams battled through overtime and into the shootout, but after Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin all failed to score on Miller, Drew Stafford beat Khudobin in the third round to seal the victory for Buffalo, who now sit just two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins meanwhile earned a playoff berth of their own with the point earned by getting to overtime, so despite the loss there are still positives to be taken. The game quite frankly was one of the better games the Bruins have played this year (aside from the continually non existent physical game), firing 43 shots on Miller, many of the high quality variety. Unfortunately the Sabres goalie was extremely sharp and kept the Bruins from extending their lead.
The night was capped off by both teams heading to center ice for a stick salute to the crowd, an appropriate finish to an emotional night.
Couple quick game notes:
Props to the Sabres, who proved to be a very classy team throughout the evening. The center ice salute idea was apparently Vanek’s, coordinating with B’s captain Zdeno Chara during warmups. Sabres forward Steve Ott also was extremely well spoken in his post-game interview with Pierre McGuire.
Carl Soderberg took morning skate but didn’t dress. He could make his debut on Friday night when the Bruins take on the Penguins.
Defenseman Wade Redden made his Bruins debut, but was quiet in 12:42 of ice time.
The reunited line of Bergeron, Marchand and Seguin was very good despite not scoring, accounting for 14 of the Bruins’ 43 shots on Miller. Bergeron in particular looked like he didn’t miss a beat in his return winning 76% of his draws, though he did lose the defensive zone draw that led to the tying goal. Overall though he was one of Boston’s most consistent players on the night (again, to the surprise of no one).
Despite taking the delay of game penalty that led to the tying goal, Andrew Ference had one of his stronger games of the year. He played over 23 minutes in the game, assisted on the Bruins second goal, and played tough in his own end all night. He had a great chance to win the game in overtime as well, but Miller came up with the save.
Dougie Hamilton was back in the lineup after being scratched for two games. He had two shots on net and a hit in 15:42 of ice.
Milan Lucic once again was a non-factor, failing to respond to his demotion to the fourth line. He had no shots in 10:53 of ice and took a four minute high sticking penalty in the third period.