After a loss in Buffalo on Thursday, the Bruins really needed this one. Second straight game against a Sabres team that looks as if it's going to be in the Stay-Bad-For-Ekblad Sweepstakes, and the first was all but tossed away by Chad Johnson's subpar outing and some defensive breakdowns in the third period. It might be a bit early to scoreboard watch, but with Montreal and Tampa winning, Detroit-Toronto going to OT, and the Senators grabbing a point, it was good night to grab two points at home and continue holding the rest of the Atlantic at bay.
Happily, that's exactly what happened. The Bruins outplayed Buffalo from the onset, and while some questionable reffing, dumb penalties, and stretches of good play from the visitors made the game an interesting watch, the Sabres really never had answer for the Bruins and a very good Tuukka Rask after Milan Lucic potted his 12th goal of the season to put the Bruins up 2-1 in the second.
Reilly Smith started the scoring at 9:39 of the first period, snapping home a beautiful across-the-crease pass from Carl Soderberg. The tic before the tac and the toe with an equally precise pass from Ryan Spooner, who also got on the scoresheet on the play. It's the type of PPG that makes you happy as a Bruins fan, given that the past three or four years of man advantage play (well it seems like the past decade sometimes) have been "whack puck from the point and hope it hits Lucic's butt and goes in." Smith, in this blogger's humble opinion, shows great instinct for sneaking in low from the left circle, and this was another of it. Both of the players who got the helps notched their first points since the "everyone has the flu" game in Calgary, so good for Soderberg and Spooner.
The Sabres, no matter what their record, always seem to be able to stay in it against Boston, and tonight was no exception. Zemgus Girgensons stuffed home a second attempt shot late in the first period, on a play where David Krejci and Jarome Iglina let Buffalo get into the zone a little too easily, and then Matt Bartkowski got distracted by high-pitched noises that only he can hear (or something), and Tuukka Rask was left one-on-one against a man with a name stranger than his...from a situation where it really should not have happened. That Rask probably could've stopped the stuff attempt is kind of an afterthought after the misplays. Regardless, it was one play tonight, not three, and it was 1-1 after one due to the 19-year-old Latvian's 4th of the season.
That didn't last long after the first Dale Arnold session, though, as a risky pinch by Buffalo's right point led to an odd man rush by the ILK line, and Iginla put a nice pass on The Matrix's stick. Krejci converted, beating Enroth over the glove for a 2-1 advantage less than two minutes in. The rest of the period saw the advantage generally stay Boston's at even strength, and the penalty kill did a spectacular job of killing off a four minute Buffalo man advantage which included nearly two minutes of 5-on-3. Forced to rely on less experienced PKers with Patrice Bergeron and Greg Campbell in the box, the Bruins coaching staff pulled a Three-DMan look, with Krug in the forward role. It wasn't pretty by any means, and the story is a little different if Ville Leino is good enough to hit an empty net, but regardless, the four minutes yielded remarkably few quality scoring chances, and basically sealed Buffalo's fate in light of their weakness at 5-aside.
Did I mention Tuukka Rask stood tall all night? The first goal was weird, but you won't find back-to-back games this season that show you the difference between an average goalie (Chad Johnson, for example), and Tuukka Rask. One gets the feeling that with the Power Plays that Buffalo had, that the Sabres might've stayed in it 'til the end were it not for the Finnish Firewall. They did not, though, as Milan Lucic felt Reilly Smith creeping on him on for the overall goal lead, and promptly tipped home a Zdeno Chara drive five minutes into the third period. Yes, tonight, the third actually was winning time for the Bruins. Lucic's 12th goal of the year was also aided by a good screen from Jarome Iginla.
The Bruins survived another late penalty kill towards the end of the third period, and closed out Buffalo with a Reilly Smith empty netter. With his 11th of the season, the young forward moved back to one behind Lucic's team leading total, and the Bruins stayed three points up on Tampa for the division lead.
- The Bruins continue to do well on the Power Play. Soderberg and Smith continue to make a case for playing together, though their chemistry is really on display with the man advantage. The Yeti seems to operate well down low. And as mentioned about, Smith's drives to the net from the left seem well-timed on a regular basis.
- Tuukka Rask rules. Nice to see him back in net, even if I'm neutral on the Johnson issue. Fact is that Subban is a little green for the NHL at the moment, Svedberg has been poor in the AHL thus far, and Tuukka seems able to carry a big load. Actually, the opposing goalie, Jhonas Enroth was pretty darn good too - this was a good night for goalies at TD Garden
- After a questionable defensive play that led to Buffalo's only goal, the Krejci line rebounded with a goal in both the second and third periods. Iginla's pass, Krejci's goal, Lucic's re-direct; they were all things of beauty.
- Ryan Spooner was as visible tonight as he's been since his call-up, and, along with his PPA, he also had several good rushes into the Buffalo zone. Keep entering the zone with the puck and going to the net, and good things will happen.
- Matt Bartkowski probably has to take more blame on the goal than the Krejci line, as he completely lost his man on the play. Though a stretch of subpar opponent, Bartkowski has been one of the few players consistently in the red in terms of possession numbers. He generates a little more offensive than alternatives, but his play in his own zone had been pretty off recently.
- Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara both got dinged up tonight, Marchand twice. First, Marchand discovered that hitting Christian Ehrhoff in a corner is a little like getting in a fist fight with a cement mixer, then he blocked a wicked slapshot and had to head to the locker room. Chara later took an Ehrhoff shot on the glove, and appeared to be nursing his hand on the bench. Marchand returned, but to my eyes, he didn't have the same jump that he came out with. Chara, invincible Slovakian bird-of-prey that he is, didn't skip a beat, and still lead the the team in TOI with 27:17. Hope both guys are okay, because the Bruins don't need more injuries.
- Regardless of the reffing, the Bruins do need to try and stay out of the box a little more. Tonight was an example of a closely called game up to a point where it got silly, and the Bruins didn't do themselves any favors. There aren't many teams in the NHL who they're going to hold scoreless on two 5-on-3s.
- The Bruins next opponent after Nashville on Monday, the Ottawa Senators, are also scheduled for a home-and-home. I don't remember the last time we've had two home-and-homes this close together, but maybe that's just scheduling weirdness that only interests me.
- Patrice Bergeron took his first fighting major in his regular season career, dropping the gloves with Tyler Myers after the latter apparently thought it was kosher to hit Bergeron between the legs with his stick. You don't see that every day, or every season. Bergeron did a nice Krejci (Matrix, you see) impression, dodging slow motion punches until he and Myers were led to the sin bin.
- Sometimes, there's a fine line between a tightly officiated game--one where clutching and grabbing is called by the book--and a game where the refs start micromanaging. Jordan Caron was sent to the box for a hit the head that wasn't, Johnny Boychuk was called for a 50-50 trip, and Steve Ott was called for slashing when Chara broke his own stick on Ott's. That all happened within a minute. Yuck. Do better, Zebras.
Tweet of the Night:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>BREAKING - Tuukka Rask legally changes first name to "Saveby"</p>— StanleyCup ofChowder (@cupofchowdah) <a href="https://twitter.com/cupofchowdah/statuses/414577906065498112">December 22, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Yeah okay, I am tooting my own horn on that one, but I think I earned it.
See you all Monday for the Nashville Predators!