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Bruins 2, Sabres 1

Hitting a high note

Recchi’s thump sets up Bergeron for winning goal

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 20, 2010

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Tim Kennedy, who doesn’t turn 24 until the end of the month, should have fresher legs than 42-year-old Mark Recchi. But in last night’s third period, when the two were racing for a puck in the Buffalo zone, it was Kennedy who found himself on the ice, deposited there by the older but hungrier Recchi.

With Kennedy on his tail, the ageless Recchi scooped up the puck, gave it to Patrice Bergeron, and celebrated when his center beat Ryan Miller at 12:57 of the third for the deciding goal in last night’s 2-1 Bruins win before 17,565 at TD Garden.

“You can’t really tell the way he plays that he’s 42,’’ said Johnny Boychuk. “He plays like he’s 25. Unbelievable.’’

Bergeron and Recchi have been two of the most consistent Bruins in this question mark of a season that’s seen more down performers than up. No surprise, then, that the two connected — Bergeron, serving as the high guy on the play, slammed a one-timer between Miller’s once-magic pads — for the goal that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the series.

“As soon as I turned, I knew Bergy was in the slot,’’ said Recchi. “He’s great at finding that little area. I knew he was going to be there. It was a heck of a shot.’’

And it’s hardly breaking news that Tuukka Rask, cool as a winter night in his native Finland, kicked out all but one of Buffalo’s 33 shots (a Mike Grier off-wing snapper at 6:57 of the first period) to continue the playoff segment of his dazzling rookie year in the same manner in which he completed the regular season (tops in goals-against average and save percentage).

But perhaps the eye-opening part of last night’s game, and most of this series, is how the Bruins’ supporting actors have emerged from the shadows.

Upon puck drop of 2009-10, Boychuk was the permanent seventh defenseman. He was scratched so often he needed a conditioning visit to Providence just to regain his timing.

But for the second game in a row, Boychuk, now Zdeno Chara’s right-hand man on the top pairing, was on the ice for the most important minute — when Miller was pulled for an extra attacker.

But Boychuk (26:22 of ice time, second only to Chara’s 28:01) has earned the full trust of his coaches. In the second period, when he saw Matt Ellis carrying the puck out of the Buffalo zone with his head down, Boychuk could hear what assistant coach Craig Ramsay has been telling him all year.

“I was riding across the [offensive blue] line. Rammer always tells us to ride across the line so you can gap up,’’ Boychuk said. “I figured, ‘I might as well go and try to hit him.’ It would have been a two-on-two because our forwards were coming back. Even if I miss him, it’s still a two-on-two. Even if he sees me and dodges me, it’s still a two-on-two.’’

Moot point. Just as Ellis picked up his head, Boychuk catapulted himself into the forward, sending both the puck and his stick flying. Boychuk’s message was clear: We’re bringing the rough stuff.

Physical play is why Vladimir Sobotka has been one of the series’ best players. Sobotka skated and bashed and agitated his way onto the roster as a rookie in 2007-08, when he appeared in 48 games. But after regressing last season (only 25 NHL appearances), 2009-10 had been more of the same — untimely penalties, flagging confidence, diminished presence. Not so lately.

“We’re seeing the Vladimir Sobotka we always thought he could be,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “Part of it is that he’s involved. He’s physically involved. He’s making great plays. He’s skating. He’s on top of the puck all the time. He’s playing with a lot of energy. When he does that, he’s a good little player. He plays like a 6-foot-plus player when he’s skating and when he’s involved.’’

Sobotka (six hits in 10:50 of ice time) drew some of the loudest cheers at 13:47 of the third when, following a post-whistle flare-up, he threw down with Andrej Sekera. But Sobotka’s best play came in the first when he set up the tying goal. With help, appropriately, from two fellow former down-and-outers: Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick.

During four-on-four play (Andrew Ference and Paul Gaustad were serving matching roughing penalties), Sobotka took a pass from Michael Ryder, hit Hunwick in the middle, then took a return pass from the defenseman. While Sobotka carried the puck down the right wing, Hunwick drove to the net. Wideman, seeing Hunwick jump up, hesitated for an instant.

“I thought about it a little bit when I saw [him] going first,’’ Wideman said. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh boy, we better make a play here, or we got Rydes playing D here for a three-on-one.’ ’’

But when Hunwick’s net drive forced Grier to backcheck with him, Wideman jumped into the pocket and called for the puck. Sobotka sent a backhand pass to the high slot, and Wideman brought the hammer down on a one-timer that zoomed past Miller’s blocker at 15:17 of the first, tying the score at 1-1.

“Even if I did see it, it was probably one you have to be standing up and anticipating it,’’ said Miller (27 saves). “You have to tip your hat and move forward.’’

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