The pregame hype had it set as a battle 14 months in the making. Fans of both teams knew well what transpired in last season, so when the 2013 schedule was released, January 31, the Boston Bruins versus the Buffalo Sabres at the TD Bank Garden was labeled the first “Can’t Miss” game of the season for both teams.
While it was no innocent play on November 12, 2011, when Bruins winger Milan Lucic bull rushed Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller, it is hard to believe such a small event could alter a franchise as it did for the Sabres. After his teammates failed to come to Miller’s defense that night, Buffalo quickly became seen as soft and it seemed as though their season was derailed after that moment.
That one hit effected not just the Sabres’ season, but their offseason approach, as they made moves to keep up with the rough-and-tumble Bruins, trading skill for tenacity as they shipped Derek Roy to Dallas for Steve Ott and signed enforcer John Scott, a 6’8” winger built in the mold of a player from a long-gone era of hockey. Those two moves alone set the tone for the first Bruin/Sabres matchup of the season.
Both fans and pundits were off in their pregame assessment as Thursday night did not feature the fisticuffs everyone was hoping for, but the game did not disappoint, nonetheless, as Buffalo made their statement, handing the Bruins their first regulation loss of the season, 7-4.
The two teams skated to a workman-like, 0-0 tie through 20 minutes. It was not until the second that the game got going when Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek, who came into the night with 49 points in 45 career games against the Bruins, put home a one-timer for his first of three goals on the night 1:38 into the period.
Vanek’s goal seemed to wake the Bruins, who quickly rallied with three unanswered goals in the span of 5:42. Beginning with Rich Peverley’s first of the season at 5:12 of the second, followed by a pair from winger Brad Marchand, all three goals came from in close, through screens and demonstrated the kind of patience and discipline the Bruins have displayed to start the season as one of the NHL’s best teams.
Buffalo, having lost four straight coming in and now trailing 3-1, looked dead in the water as the second period was coming to a close. The Sabres proved their fortitude, however, scoring two quick goals of their own. It was Vanek leading the charge again, first scoring on a beautiful redirection of a Christian Ehrhoff at 16:46 while on a two-man advantage, then setting up Tyler Ennis 1:33 later to tie the game 3-3 heading into the third.
The Bruins, 38-0-0 last season in games they led by two goals, 3-0-0 in 2013, and known of late for their dominant third period play, quickly reclaimed the lead 1:45 into the final period as David Krejci displayed some nifty stick work around a sprawling Jordan Leopold, cutting in through the rightwing faceoff circle and beating Miller for his second of the season. Yet, much like how Vanek’s goal to open the second inspired the Bruins, Krejci’s tally set off the Sabres, who tied the game 43 seconds later and completely took over.
As Buffalo continued to comeback, the normally well composed Bruins were rattled and sloppy on both ends of the ice. Offensively they squandered too many opportunities, thwarted by the brilliant play of Miller, reminiscent of his Vezina winning form. On the other end of the ice, Boston head coach Claude Julien summed up his team’s defensive effort when, after the game, he said, “Our guys were defensively brain-dead.”
Vanek effectively ended the night when he completed his hat trick after stealing the puck from a stick-less Peverley near center ice and creating a 2-0 against a helpless Tuukka Rask to put the Sabres up 6-4 with just 1:31 to play. It was Vanek’s fifth point of the game (3G, 2A), his second five-point game of the season, which put him atop the NHL scoring list at games end.
Buffalo captain Jason Pominville added the empty net goal with 13.6 seconds to play, putting the exclamation point on the Bruins first divisional loss of the season.
As bad as it was, the loss was just Boston’s first in regulation this season and, given how uncharacteristic their play was, probably not indicative of things to come for the Bruins. Buffalo, by comparison, showed a great deal of resolve that has been lacking in some games this season. Should they be able to consistently play as they did in Boston, the Sabres become an instant threat as a tenacious team that is both skilled upfront and anchored in net by Miller, who has the potential to be one of the best in the league.
Boston will look to quickly rebound from the tough defeat as they travel to Toronto for another divisional game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
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.