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Bruins 3, Sabres 2

Bruins are better late

Down two in third, B's click in shootout

The Sabres' Adam Mair takes a trip, courtesy of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, during the first period. The Sabres' Adam Mair takes a trip, courtesy of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, during the first period. (David Duprey/Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / February 9, 2008

BUFFALO - As Phil Kessel kicked off his series of dekes during the shootout last night, the puck hopped over his stick, and the winger thought that was that.

But it somehow floated off Kessel's blade and dribbled through the pads of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller for the only goal of the shootout, propelling the Bruins to a 3-2 victory before 18,690 at HSBC Arena that dropped the surging Sabres 3 points behind seventh-place Boston in the playoff chase.

"Can't get luckier than that," said Kessel. "But I'll take it."

It was just the turn of good fortune the Bruins needed. The last minute of each of the first two periods nearly doomed them. In the first, defenseman Jaroslav Spacek gave Buffalo the lead with a power-play one-timer with 3.4 ticks remaining.

In the middle frame, Thomas Vanek scored on a wobbler - from Bruins goalie Alex Auld's viewpoint, the forward missed with his swing but the puck glanced in off his boot - with 37.5 seconds remaining in the period to make it 2-0, kicking off the strike by beating Mark Stuart along the wall, then blowing past the defenseman to claim the front of the net.

At that point, the deflated Bruins could have tucked their tails, moaned about their misfortune, and allowed the Sabres to claim a victory, a win that would have wiped out the 6-point lead Boston held on its division rival early in the week.

"I think we believed we were playing a good game," said Auld. "But really, they were just getting stuff on the power play. We had a couple letdowns and they scored. But I think we believed we were outchancing them."

Zdeno Chara, who was in the box for Spacek's first-period goal and took a second-period interference penalty that nearly led to another Buffalo strike, kicked off the third-period rally.

Fifty-seven seconds into the period, Chara stepped into P.J. Axelsson's drop pass and brought down the hammer on his trademark slap shot, whizzing one past Miller to halve Buffalo's lead.

It was one of 17 shots the Bruins pumped on Miller in the third. Entering the game, Miller was 5-0 in his last six starts, and was seeking his 100th career victory.

"We were knocking pucks down and getting right back on the attack," said Auld. "I think that's a key. We were just firing everything at the net. Against a goalie like Miller, you've got to do that. You've got to get traffic and you've got to get pucks there."

It was the same philosophy stressed by coach Claude Julien in the last two days of practice. Julien was peeved by his team's lack of fight, particularly in the danger areas, in Boston's 4-2 setback to Buffalo Tuesday. So at Ristuccia Arena, Julien rolled his players through repeated battle drills in front of the net and in the corners.

It paid off.

The Bruins outshot the Sabres, 17-1, in the final 20 minutes, prompting Auld to proclaim that he couldn't remember the last time he saw such a dominant third period. And in the last five minutes, the Bruins tallied the tying strike.

After foiling an odd-man rush, the Bruins pushed the puck up to Marc Savard on the left wall. Savard had been held pointless the last two games, but the No. 1 center kicked off a scoring rush by connecting with Marco Sturm in the neutral zone. Sturm took the pass in full sprint at the red line, blowing past defenseman Brian Campbell, racing into the offensive zone, and whipping a shot past Miller at 16:10, making it 2-2.

After a scoreless overtime, the teams went into the shootout. Buffalo forward Ales Kotalik and Sturm traded misses, then Auld stopped defenseman Henrik Tallinder's forehand bid. After Kessel's shot rolled in, Auld stared down Derek Roy. After he stuffed the forward, Auld gave a fist pump before his teammates arrived to congratulate their goalie.

"It was huge," Sturm said of the victory. "We lost at home and we had to come in here. We're in the playoff run, so this was a big 2 points tonight."

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

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