“They brought some momentum, we brought none.” That was Bruins coach Claude Julien’s simple yet pointed response after his team dropped their third game in four tries last night, falling to the New York Islanders by a 3-1 score. Boston continues to struggle to generate any kind of consistent pressure, and the trouble was compacted last night by some bad decision making, another problem of late. Dougie Hamilton had the Bruins’ only goal, while Chad Johnson took the loss in net in just his second start of the season.
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.
While some non-hockey fans have criticized the NHL and its players for not having enough personality off the ice, the past few days have provided more than a few examples that this is in fact not the case. First we had Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl tallying four goals in a game against the Rangers, including a through the legs dandy to round out his night. Today, former Bruin and current New Jersey Devils forward Jaromir Jagr – an interesting character since his days in Pittsburgh – decided to chime in on Hertl’s impressive performance on his Facebook page. And not to be outdone, Hertl’s teammate Joe Thornton had perhaps the (unintentional?) quote of the year in the Sharks lockerroom while commenting on the subject.
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.
Friday, February 15th, 7pm, First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV: NESN, MSG-Buffalo Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub
The Bruins and Sabres are preparing to faceoff for the third time this season tomorrow night at First Niagara Center, with each team earning a win so far. For the Bruins, the strategy should be simple, try to bring the same effort that earned them a 3-1 victory over the Sabres this past Sunday, where Buffalo’s stars were held in check and the Bruin offense peppered Sabres goalie Ryan Miller with 38 shots. The black and gold begin a five game road trip unbeaten in regulation away from TD Garden (4-0-1) this season, and are also staring down an opportunity to pad their Northeast Division lead and perhaps grab a hold of the top spot in the Eastern Conference as well.