Bruins Begin, Sobotka are being pretty gritty
With 67 seconds remaining Saturday in Game 2 of the Bruins’ playoff series against the Sabres — Buffalo’s Ryan Miller off for an extra attacker, Boston leading by one, and the faceoff in its zone — coach Claude Julien faced an important decision: who to send onto the ice.
As the Bruins’ No. 1 defensive pairing, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk were no-brainers. Same with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi, two-thirds of the team’s best two-way line. The choice for the fifth skater — he’d be a center, just in case Bergeron got tossed from the faceoff — wasn’t so obvious.
But based on the manner in which Steve Begin had performed, the fourth-liner was an easy choice for Julien.
“No. 1, he was good and gritty on faceoffs,’’ Julien explained yesterday at TD Garden, where the series resumes tonight. “So we had a second faceoff man there. He’s also a guy that can play the wing. And if anybody’s going to drop in front of shots, it’s going to be him. He’ll do whatever it takes.
“I thought he was having a pretty good game. He worked hard along the boards. He was strong. He’s been one of our better penalty killers, him and Dan [Paille]. They did a great job there. So I thought it was important to have him out there at the end, knowing he was going to do whatever it took to do the job.’’
Appropriately, given their status as the team’s top two centers, Bergeron and David Krejci played starring roles in the Bruins’ 5-3 win. Bergeron assisted on Chara’s first goal when he deflected Boychuk’s slap shot to his captain’s stick. On Chara’s winning goal, Krejci flashed in front of Miller just as the defenseman’s shot approached the Buffalo net.
But in the playoffs, when physical play is required and black-and-blue bodies are necessary, the Bruins got the sandpaper games they needed from Begin and Vladimir Sobotka. While Begin won a wall battle to help clear the zone, leading to an empty-net Recchi goal, Sobotka led the Bruins with a game-high nine hits, serving notice to the Sabres that they’re in for a series full of thumps.
“You have to wear them down,’’ Begin said. “When you have a chance to, you hit their key players. They don’t like it. You see that when you hit them. They get tired of it. At the end of the series, you wear them down and they start to fade away.’’
In Game 1, Begin bloodied Patrick Kaleta with a blast into the boards. In Game 2, Begin shook off a bad early bounce — a Tyler Myers point slapper that caromed off his foot and zoomed past Tuukka Rask — to turn in a 22-shift effort that included two shots, three hits, and six-on-five duty in the final minute.
“I like that pressure,’’ Begin said. “As a player, you want to be used in those special times of the game, especially in the playoffs. When he sent me out there with Bergy and Rex, it felt good mentally. It gives you a little boost.’’
As hard as Begin was to play against, Sobotka was the most abrasive Bruin. In the first period, Sobotka ran into Miller and was tagged with goaltender interference. But the Bruins killed off Sobotka’s penalty, an infraction that hinted at further traffic to come in Miller’s direction.
“That’s my way,’’ Sobotka said. “That’s how I have to play. I had a lot of hits, but that’s part of my game.’’
Early in the second period, with his team trailing, 2-0, Sobotka kicked off a rally by ripping a slap shot on goal. Miller stopped Sobotka’s shot, but the puck hopped over the goalie. Before Miller or his defensemen could clear the puck, Michael Ryder was in position to guide it across the goal line at 2:35.
“Since the playoffs started, [Sobotka’s] been a real good asset for our hockey club,’’ Julien said. “What I’ve liked about his game lately is that he’s been really involved and more confident in making plays.’’
Sobotka and Begin aren’t the only bottom-six forwards who have made an impact on the series. In Game 1, Kaleta, Buffalo’s fourth-line agitator, was at the epicenter of a first-period melee. In the second, Kaleta set a screen on Craig Rivet’s winning goal. Through two games, Mike Grier, Buffalo’s checking-line right wing, leads all players with 15 hits.
“In playoff time, it’s not only the first and second line,’’ Begin said. “Everybody has to chip in. Everyone. We’ve got guys who don’t play a lot. But when they get out there, they do the right thing. They make sure the other team knows they’re there. They do their jobs.
“In the playoffs, it’s a totally different season. Every little thing is huge for the team. When you go out there, you get a check, you get a good shot. All that matters at the end. If you add all those little things up, it gets you a win.’’