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Sabres 4, Bruins 2

Bruins lose edge and fall

Sharper Sabres put stop to streaks

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 4, 2009
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For the first time in more than two months, the home dressing room at TD Banknorth Garden featured a most unusual characteristic.

Silence.

The Bruins room has been a jovial space for the last 14 home games, and the last 10 overall. But yesterday, after Buffalo swiped a 4-2 win before 17,565 at the Garden, the Bruins were in no mood to dwell on a streak-snapping loss.

"Guess every good thing comes to an end," said coach Claude Julien. "Unfortunately, tonight was the night for ours."

Gone: The 10-game winning streak. Finished: The 14-game run of home wins. Poof: David Krejci's 10-game point streak.

None of them deserved to be extended.

The scuffling Sabres, desperate for a good showing to climb back into the Eastern Conference chase, came into the Garden and delivered the Bruins their first home loss since Oct. 23.

The Bruins pride themselves on being a hard-working bunch that plays blue-collar hockey. But it was the gritty Sabres who marched into the Garden and outworked their opponents in the danger areas, performing the on-ice equivalent of swaggering into the Boston locker room and wiping their skates on the eight-spoked B that is the space's cen terpiece.

They did what any underdogs might try against dangerous opponents: Punch them in the mouth and see how they respond.

Forward Matt Ellis led the attack with two goals, both coming as he stuck his nose in the slot to jam home rebounds. Ryan Miller won the goalie duel against Tim Thomas, stopping 29 shots, including every puck in the third period when the Bruins held an 11-2 shot advantage.

"They created a lot of traffic," said Thomas (21 saves), who was jostled several times by the crash-and-bang Sabres. "It's one of the things that we're actually pretty good at doing also.

"They were rewarded with the bounces. I think we did some of the right things, too. We were almost rewarded with the bounces, but we weren't able to put them away."

Miller started his day off right by making a pair of point-blank stops in the opening minutes. First, he hit the deck to stop a Phil Kessel scoring chance. Then when Marc Savard was in position to put the rebound home, Miller stuck out his glove while on his stomach to stone the center's attempt.

"He had a really good game for them," said Zdeno Chara. "We had some really good chances, some quality chances. He made some big saves for them. For sure, he was a difference for them tonight."

The Sabres executed a simple game plan. Break the puck out cleanly. Gain speed through the neutral zone. Activate the defensemen and get numbers going up ice. Make reservations for the net-front space and make a point of extending the visits. Drive to the net and make life hard on Thomas and his defensemen.

"They drove to the net, put pucks on the net, and crashed us," said Shane Hnidy. "They capitalized. We didn't capitalize on our chances. Unfortunately, that's the difference. Very straightforward and that was their game plan."

At 3:20 of the opening period, Ellis notched his first goal by jamming in front and cashing in a rebound off defenseman Henrik Tallinder's point shot. At 4:47, forward Jochen Hecht, after some strong cycling, forced Matt Hunwick to take a tripping penalty. On the power play, sharpshooter Thomas Vanek parked himself in front of the net and tipped a slapper from Derek Roy past Thomas at 5:08.

Phil Kessel slashed Buffalo's lead in half with his 24th goal at 10:46 of the first, but Buffalo reclaimed its two-goal lead when Ellis was in position to collect the rebound off Ales Kotalik's first shot. Ellis had an easy tap-in at 3:04 of the second.

Shawn Thornton made it a one-goal game with a top-shelf wrister from the slot that snapped over Miller's glove at 9:51. But the Sabres scored the final goal of the game at 13:06 of the second by driving to the net once again, getting the lucky bounce when a puck glanced off Hnidy and beat Thomas. Forward Paul Gaustad was credited with the goal.

"I don't think we had our best game, obviously," said Julien. "But part of that reason is because they came and played us hard. They were obviously gritty, hungry, and determined. We didn't have enough guys the same way. We had some, but not everybody."

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