Last season, Buffalo was the class of the NHL, running away with the Eastern Conference crown with 113 regular-season points.
It's been a different tale this season, with the Sabres entering last night's showdown in 11th place in the conference, 6 points behind the eighth-place Bruins. They've been far enough out of the playoff picture that trade rumors surrounding free agent-to-be Brian Campbell, perhaps Buffalo's best player, continue to circulate.
Last night, the Sabres made a statement that they're not breaking up their roster and their playoff window hasn't closed.
The scrappy Sabres claimed a 4-2 win over the Bruins before 13,427 at TD Banknorth Garden, trimming Boston's lead to 4 points. With a rematch in Buffalo Friday, the Sabres could climb within 2 points of their Northeast Division rivals.
"Looking back at the game, it was more of one team hungrier than the other and one team playing with more desperation than the other," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "They're fighting for their lives. They need to get back in the race.
"These two games against us this week mean just as much as the two games against New York [in mid-January] meant to us. We didn't respond well enough to be able to challenge them tonight. When they had opportunities, they went to the net with purpose. We didn't."
Three of Buffalo's goals came from within a stick-length of Tim Thomas's crease. In the first period, forward Daniel Paille beat Dennis Wideman to the far post and cashed in a cross-ice pass from linemate Jason Pominville at 3:30 to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.
P.J. Axelsson got the goal back at 9:48 in the first period when the Bruins showed some grit themselves. Peter Schaefer won a battle for a puck against defenseman Jaroslav Spacek along the end boards and threw it out front to David Krejci, whose shot hit Campbell and caromed off the right post. The puck dribbled out to Axelsson, who blasted it past goalie Ryan Miller (30 saves).
But in the second period, forward Thomas Vanek was stationed in the slot in perfect position to redirect a puck off the stick of linemate Drew Stafford and past Thomas at 5:44.
In the third period, Paille scored the winner on a three-on-two Buffalo rush. As the Sabres barreled into the Boston zone, forward Jochen Hecht flung the puck to the slot. It glanced off the right boot of an oncoming Paille and skittered past Thomas at 13:54. Replay showed that Paille didn't use a distinct kicking motion to punt the puck into the cage, so the goal stood.
"He pulled his foot forward," said Thomas, who didn't have a beef with the goal. "I think there was a kicking motion, but maybe not necessarily a kicking motion toward the net. That's why he got away with it.
"He was definitely dragging his back foot forward. I asked Alex Auld on the replay. He said there was a kicking motion, but not necessarily toward the net."
Defenseman Toni Lydman added a power-play goal in the third period from the point - forward Derek Gaustad was practically in Thomas's mask while setting a screen - for Buffalo's fourth goal, and Mark Stuart beat Miller at 19:59 of the third for Boston's meaningless second goal.
"After two periods, it could have gone either way," said Julien. "But still, within those two periods, I sensed that they were a little more desperate on the other side. In the third period, they came out and were determined not to let us back in the game."
Boston's game plan was to win the first half of the home-and-home series, putting pressure on Buffalo to win its match at
"We're battling for the playoffs just like they are," said Krejci. "We need wins just like they do. We've got to want it more than them. It looked like they wanted to win more than we did.
"We've got to go up there on Friday and get 110 percent from every single guy and bring 2 points back here."