With the dark cloud of what happened 11 days ago hanging over the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY, both the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabers took to the ice on Wednesday night looking to make a statement in this Northeast Division match-up. Both teams made their statement, but in the end it was the Bruins who came out on top with a 4-3, shootout victory.
For the Sabres, they came into the game needing to atone and seek vengeance on Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who delivered a hard body check to Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller in the team’s last meeting just over a week ago. While the Sabres needed be the ones to ring the bell, attack the Bruins and not back down, Boston had to answer that call and stand-up to any physicality Buffalo threw their way, all the while proving they are more than the thugs they have been labeled as since the Lucic hit. And for both teams, the two points on the line would put the victor into a tie for first place in the division with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Lucic-Miller issue was put to rest early as Paul Gaustad squared off with Lucic on just the second shift of the game, with the decision going to Lucic. The tone for the contest, however, was not set until later in the first period when emotions erupted as it was Gaustad once again bringing the physical presence. The Sabres centerman took a clean run at the Bruins’ Brad Marchand following a hit by Marchand on Buffalo’s Nathan Gerbe, and a scrum ensued on-ice involving all 10 skaters.
The Sabres may not have won either of the first period bouts, but they made their statement by showing up for them. They also went on to prove they were not a weak team by capitalizing on the Buffalo power play that resulted from the scum, with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff letting loose a laser from the blue line that beat Boston goaltender Tim Thomas. It was the first goal Thomas had given up in more than 200 minutes of play and the first goal the Bruins had given up on the road in the month of November.
The Sabres extended their lead to 2-0 after an errant pass in the Buffalo zone by Marchand as the Bruins were making a shorthanded bid led to a fast break by the Sabres that saw Thomas Vanek unleash a wrist shot that beat Thomas at 15:22 of the first period.
With Buffalo having made their point, Boston in turn made theirs as they remained composed under the Buffalo attack and began to battle their way back in the second, getting a pair of goals in the period, one each from Marchand and Tyler Seguin, to cut the deficit to 3-2 by the end of the second 20 minutes. The Bruins then tied the game early in the third period as Zdeno Chara took a feed from Lucic and put a slap shot past Jhonas Enroth, knotting the score at 3-3. It was Boston’s second power play goal of the game against a penalty kill that was ranked second in the NHL coming into the game.
Even after tying the score, the Bruins continued to improve their play as the game went on missing several good chances down the stretch, including a spinning backhand by Seguin on the top of Enroth’s crease that just missed, but Buffalo did not wilt. The game went into overtime and eventually the shootout, where both goaltenders stood on their heads, each shutting out their opposition through the first four rounds. Enroth, who came into the night a perfect 5-0 in his career in shootouts, was the first to blink, getting beat by Benoit Pouliot, whose goal delivered the Bruins their tenth straight win.
With the win, the Bruins remain perfect in the month of November, but it was what this game proved about the team’s character that was far more important than the two points. Billed as a rematch of the two teams following the controversial hit by Lucic on Miller, there was a lot of hype coming into the game and high expectations of a physical game. Though the Bruins often play better the more physical they are, it is often easy to lose oneself in the physicality, particularly when found in an early hole, as Boston saw earlier in the year in their disappointing loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in mid-October. This time around, however, the Bruins were able to remain composed and focused, and stayed in a game that was predominantly controlled by their opponents.
It was a focus that paid off as not only did the Bruins get themselves back into first place in the division, but also the first time all season the Bruins were able to win a game after trailing by two goals. It was also the kind of focus and composure the Bruins will need in games like their next one, coming up on Friday against the Detroit Red Wings, where they face highly skilled teams that can not be bullied. Focus that will help the Bruins once again raise their game to a championship level.
A statement of their character.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.