As the Buffalo Sabres came to Boston, they were coming off a 4-2 loss on home ice to the Vancouver Canucks the night before. Of the two teams, they were certainly the one that was more tired, and their season was not going well, bringing a 1-5-1 record. The Boston Bruins, who had beat the Canucks on Thursday, had Friday to practice and rest.
For the Bruins the list of injuries continued to grow. On Friday, at practice, the team was missing Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Kevin Miller, and Adam McQuaid. Bergeron was a maintenance day—given the number of minutes he had played in his first game of the season, coming off an injury. Krejci and Miller were upper body and on Saturday they were listed as game time decisions. McQuaid, it was announced, was headed for surgery on Monday; having broken his right fibula. He will be out for approximately eight weeks. During warm ups before the game Saturday, Miller was not on the ice, but Krejci was and during rushes he was slotted between his usual line mates Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak. However, just after they got off the ice, it was announced that Krejci was a scratch and Matt Beleskey would be put in.
These injuries certainly resulted in some shuffling of lines. Tim Schaller was moved up to the second line to center DeBrusk and Pastrnak. And Beleskey was put on the wing in the fourth line. On defense, Zdeno Chara was paired with Charlie McAvoy, while Torey Krug’s partner was Brandon Carlo. Paul Postma played his first game as a Bruin and was paired with AHL emergency call up Rob O’Gara.
A lot of moving pieces, and certainly some need for communication for most of the Bruins lines. However, despite a bit of a sloppy start, the Bruins found some rhythm and were up two goals at the end of the first period. Pastrnak’s wrister on the doorstep of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner potted the rebound Lehner gave up on Schaller’s attempt. Brad Marchand got the second goal right off the faceoff just as the Bruins went on the power play.
Thirty-seven seconds into the middle frame and Marchand had his second of the night, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead. However, the Sabres weren’t going away. While Boston had outshot Buffalo in the first 13-6, that would end up being the only period they would carry in that category. In fact, roughly seven and a half minutes after Boston got their third, the Sabres would get on the board—a wrist shot from Jason Pominville. Pominville’s goal gave Buffalo a bit of life and they were soon shooting everything they could at Boston’s Anton Khudobin.
“Yeah, they were [shooting from everywhere], and they were driving the net,” Khudobin said postgame. “I like shots, like probably every other goalie, but they were crashing the net. They were going hard. There were a lot of deflections, a lot of rebounds, a lot of scrums in front of the net, which were… that’s the dangerous part, not just the shots.”
And the rebounds were plenty—something that Khudobin needs to limit.
“Erratic. He battles. We love that about him,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about Khudobin’s play after the game. “He battled to the end. Certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him.”
With Tuukka Rask currently undergoing concussion protocol, Khudobin is in essence the Bruins primary goaltender for the time being. The team has called up Zane McIntyre from the Providence Bruins while Rask is out, but if the team in front of these goaltenders can’t push for the full three periods, it will be tough going for both netminders.
The life that Pominville’s goal gave the Sabres seemed to be tempered as Pastrnak scored his second on the night giving the Bruins that three goal lead again. Unfortunately the shots on goal began to mount for the Sabres as the period went on and it was only a matter of time before one of them got in on Khudobin. Jack Eichel scored his fourth of the season, and as the teams went to their respective rooms for the second intermission the score stood at 4-2 in Boston’s favor.
The third period was like watching the reverse of the first. The Sabres were in charge and peppering the Bruins goalie with shots from all angles and going hard to the net. They were also doing a good job of preventing the Bruins from getting much on net at the other end.
“What we discussed between periods is making smart decisions with the puck, not get it out at all costs and sort it out from there,” Cassidy shared. “We weren’t able to temper it, just settle it down and string together three or four shifts to sort of get through that. So it gives the other team life and it becomes a vicious cycle. Get it out, change, get it out, change if you can, and you get into scramble mode.”
And scrambling was what it looked like as the Sabres cut the Bruins lead to one with Benoit Pouliot’s snap shot 6:51 into the third. The ice was tilted and the Bruins weren’t making those smart decisions with the puck that they’d discussed between periods. Eleven minutes later, with 2:18 remaining in regulation, Evander Kane’s backhand shot trickled past Khudobin and across the goal line, tying the game.
As the overtime got underway, it was again clear that the Sabres wanted the win more than the Bruins. They had the momentum and they pushed it all the way to what would end up being a controversial goal by Ryan O’Reilly. Khudobin believed he’d been interfered with, but the call on the ice of a good goal was upheld.
“They made the call. You know how those go. I lost, so I disagree with it. They won, so I’m sure they’re going to agree with it. They are tough calls, sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t,” Cassiday said about the review of the goal.
Indeed Phil Housley, head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, did agree with the call.
“I think [Rasmus Ristolainen] was trying to avoid the goaltender and he was pushed in. It was the right call,” he said when asked about the review.
In the end it should never have come to that point for Boston. They had a strong lead and somehow they allowed the Sabres to get back into the game.
“We didn’t play the game we needed to play,” a subdued Marchand said after the game. “We relaxed a bit and we started losing a few battles in the wrong areas, and, you know, they just played better than we did.”
That pretty much sums it up. Of course the Sabres will need to follow this win up with another one when they host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. Meanwhile the Bruins, who are off on Sunday, will certainly need to regroup and diagnose their lapses on Monday when they hold their next practice. They don’t play again until Thursday when the San Jose Sharks come to town.