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SABRES 6, BRUINS 3

Kessel scores twice in Bruins' loss to Sabres

BUFFALO -- For Marc Savard, the frustrating thing about last night's 6-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres before 18,690 at HSBC Arena was the evidence the Bruins put forth two days earlier when they claimed a 3-2 shootout win over the same club.

"We know we can beat these guys," said Savard, whose team allowed three third-period goals that snapped a 3-3 tie. "We were able to force their D down low [Monday]. But they're a great team. They have good forwards, three lines that can score, a great goalie. They're good."

The Bruins have only themselves to blame for being part of Buffalo's one-game revival. Before the game, coach Lindy Ruff wasn't a happy man, picking apart his team and the mistakes it had been committing, several of which came Monday at the Garden.

Yes, Buffalo was still in first place. Yes, netminder Ryan Miller had been stopping pucks as consistently as he has all season. But the go-go Sabres were stuck in an 0-2-1 funk, the first time they had gone three games without a victory all season. They weren't controlling the puck as they had in previous games. Their forwards failed to generate the wheels in the neutral zone that led to offensive-zone explosiveness earlier this season.

Last night, the Bruins ran into a rejuvenated buzz saw of a Buffalo attack that used its speed and creativity -- not to mention some puck luck -- to score three unanswered third-period goals and pour 32 shots on the Boston cage.

"We couldn't catch a break," said Bruins coach Dave Lewis. "A couple were tipped. Even the winner. We had five guys back in our zone, it hits our guys, and it goes crossbar. Couldn't get a break."

In the third period, with his team trailing, 3-2, Phil Kessel tied it. The Bruins were on the power play after a hooking call on Maxim Afinogenov late in the second period, and Kessel gave his team its only man-advantage goal in five chances. Savard sent a diagonal cross-ice pass for Kessel, who blasted a shot past Miller (25 saves) 56 seconds into the period.

It was Kessel's second goal of the game, with his first coming in the opening frame after a turnover by defenseman Dmitri Kalinin gave the rookie a breakaway on Miller. Kessel didn't flub the chance, going five-hole to net his sixth of the season and first since Nov. 16. Kessel declined to comment afterward about his two-goal game.

But after Kessel's tying strike, the Sabres got the bounce they needed. Daniel Briere stickhandled on the left side of the Boston zone, giving his teammates time and space to set up their formation. Briere fed the puck to defenseman Brian Campbell, who let loose a one-timer with traffic in front of Thomas.

At first, Thomas wasn't worried. He tracked the puck and concluded that Campbell's shot was going high and wide on his blocker side. But the puck struck Marco Sturm, changed direction, and ended up behind Thomas for the winning strike (Afinogenov added an insurance goal at 14:44, and Daniel Paille scored an empty-netter at 19:18).

"I thought overall it was a greatly improved 60-minute effort," Ruff said. "We won the one-on-one battles and there was a lot of desperation, especially on the power play."

It was the third time a Buffalo shot hit something in front and bounced into the net. In the first period, a wide shot by Campbell bounced off the boards to Briere, who dished to linemate Thomas Vanek at the goal-mouth. The forward's shot deflected off Zdeno Chara and into the net at 12:29.

Later in the period, a shot from the slot by Ales Kotalik skimmed off Paille, changing the trajectory and fooling Thomas at 14:05.

"You have days when you have all that traffic and you can't get a shot through," Thomas said. "Tonight it ended up bouncing off two things and in."

Conversely, none of the numerous odd-man rushes by the Buffalo forwards ended up burning the Bruins. At the other end, despite the number of scoring chances the Sabres enjoyed, the Bruins had a point-blank chance to tie the game at 4-4.

With about eight minutes remaining, Patrice Bergeron found Sturm in front for a scoring bid. Miller turned aside Sturm's close-range attempt, with the rebound hopping out to the stick of Shean Donovan. But the Boston winger, bothered by a backchecking Sabre, sent a second shot wide of the net, ending Boston's best opportunity at a tie.

"We let them off the hook," said Paul Mara. "We had them back on their heels with 10 minutes left. Tie ballgame, but we let it go."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.

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