The Bruins three games against Toronto and Buffalo ended up being a little bit more exciting than they'd probably like, but it's hard to argue with five out of six points. The Bruins, on the strength of a Brad Marchand penalty shot in OT, re-took third place in the Atlantic, now tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning (2nd by virtue of having played fewer games) with 62 points.
And what a goal that was! Marchand drew the penalty shot call after shooting in-between two Sabres and brilliantly stick-lifting the pursuing Rasmus Ristolainen as the young Finnish defender was poised to break up the bid. Ristolainen, left stickless, got just enough of Marchand's jersey with his free hand to allow #63 to take center stage, rather than Boston merely getting a 4-on-3.
Marchand converted the shot with a tiny jerk of a move that froze Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner, allowing the Bruins' leading goal-scorer to easily convert with the top-shelf backhand for the game-winner. It was his 23rd of the season.
At other end, Tuukka Rask held things down in what was one of his best performances of the year, stopping 30 of 31 shots from the energetic Sabres as Buffalo once again had to settle for a single point. Indeed, usually when Rask's play is that good, the Bruins don't have to worry about needing OT; however, on this night at TD Garden, Lehner was also tremendous. The oft-injured Sabres goalie made a couple of his own amazing stops in turning aside 32 of 34 from Boston, including turning Ryan Spooner away on a breakaway in the second.
The Bruins had grabbed the lead with a nice tic-tac-toe play with Loui Eriksson cashing in his 16th of the season from David Pastrnak and David Krejci. That was the only blemish aganst Lehner, and the only goal of the night that the Sabres would manage against Tuukka Rask was a Sam Reinhard rebound off a Jamie McGinn shot. Ryan O'Reilly, who missed a golden chance against a sprawling Rask at one point late in the second to extend the Sabres' forward's hard-luck stretch 12 game, grabbed the secondary assist.
McGinn would be the subject of controversy--ultimate the talking point of the game, give how it ended--when Dennis Seidenberg was called for a trip with 7:30 remaining in the game on a play that looked, to put it kindly, just as much worthy of a penalty shot as the penalty that would eventually give Marchand his shot to convert the game-winner. While McGinn was shielding the puck more than preparing to shoot, it's difficult to argue Seidenberg's case without also arguing Ristolainen's. Some days the bear gets you. It felt like awhile since the Bruins last received some honest-to-goodness luck, and I doubt you'll hear them complaining.
- While both goalies were on their games tonight, they were a few crossbars as well. Notably Pastrnak beating Lehner cleanly, and Jack Eichel doing the same to Rask, both parried only by the iron. It's not that often you watch a game with 76 total shots on goal (and yes, that doesn't include posts/crossbars) and only three actual goals scored.
- While Rask had to bail them out a couple times, the Bruins defensive corps woke up a little in terms of actually remembering to close gaps and find their men in front of the net. Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, Torey Krug (who had a semi-breakaway in OT turned aside by Lehner's good positioning), Dennis Seidenberg, Kevan Miller, and Zach Trotman get a passing grade for today. There. I said it. They weren't always sharp on the breakout--the Bruins didn't outshoot the Sabres, after clearly looking like the better team in the Buffalo win--but they didn't leave Rask completely out to dry.
- While the Patrice Bergeron & Brad Marchand duo continued to flourish, Brett Connolly still seems like an ill fit on that line. At one point he flubbed the puck after Ristolainen tried to hand him an open chance, and it was a pretty good microcosm of his night.
- The two Davids and Loui looked dangerous all night, and it's a testament to some-minute plays by the Buffalo defense and (mainly) Lehner that that line only tallied one goal.
- Zac Rinaldo drew a penalty by charging Evander Kane and getting elbowed when Kane spotted him bearing down. I don't even know what to say here beyond "that was a better outcome than expected." The fourth line wasn't horrible tonight, I suppose.
- Ryan Spooner's line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes continues to look equal parts match-up problem and "hey maybe he could use one winger who also carries the puck in." Paging Brett Connolly. Anyway, it certainly wasn't lack of trying that left the Bruins with only one goal before OT, as the Top 9 looked solid overall and downright exciting for stretches.
- Lehner's SV% tonight was .947 and he took the loss. He came in with a .923 in his career versus Boston, with only three wins in eleven games to show for it. Did you know that Lehner's been on a few subpar teams?