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Sabres 3, Bruins 2

Bruins lose their cool, game

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 16, 2010

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BUFFALO — The Bruins didn’t play well last night, and they especially didn’t play well when they were ahead on the scoreboard. Their lead in the first period lasted all of 72 seconds. Their lead in the final period stood up for only 32 seconds.

They were good enough to get ahead, bad enough to give it away, and ultimately unfocused and undisciplined enough to leave here 3-2 losers to the Sabres before a crowd of 18,197 at HSBC Arena.

“You know, we had our chances on special teams,’’ said captain Zdeno Chara, noting that the Bruins were 1 for 4 on the power play, while failing on 2 of 5 penalty kills. “We had our chances on the power play, and obviously, if you don’t score on those . . . ’’

However, it was more than that, much more. With the clock ticking down and the Bruins in need of a goal to force overtime, Milan Lucic let his emotions best his game IQ, and he was tagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 1:38 remaining in regulation. The hulking winger was infuriated by what he felt was the inconsistent work of referees Dan O’Rourke and Brian Pochmara — and he may have had a point — but his chirping left his club shorthanded for the remainder of regulation.

“Certainly not what you want to see from your player in that situation,’’ said coach Claude Julien, his ire nonetheless tempered, noting that he understood Lucic’s frustration over some calls. “You have to suck it up for the right reasons.’’

With Lucic in the box, the Bruins pulled goalie Tuukka Rask for the final 56.7 seconds and initially mounted some pressure, with attempts from Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron. And with 10 seconds to go, Chara, positioned at the top of the crease in such a desperate situation, chopped away at a loose puck to no avail. Ryan Miller stood his ground (32 saves) and the Sabres pocketed the two points.

“How can you not be upset?’’ said Lucic, capping off a detailed explanation of what led to him calling one of the referees “a joke,’’ which is what earned him the penalty.

The crux of Lucic’s argument, and anger, was that he was whistled off for boarding late in the first period, setting up Buffalo’s first tying goal. Later, according to Lucic, he was similarly knocked around by two Sabres, neither of whom received a penalty. No quid pro quo. No ability to hold his tongue. On a night when the Bruins couldn’t muster the energy and scoring touch to dispatch their old Adams Division brothers, going shorthanded only added to their handicap.

In the first period, after a David Krejci goal provided the 1-0 lead, Drew Stafford struck only 1:12 later for his first of three goals, knocking in a doorstep rebound on a power play. In the third, after Michael Ryder connected on the power play at 6:21 for a 2-1 lead, Stafford was back for No. 2 at 6:53.

And finally, with 9:05 remaining in regulation, Stafford knocked home his third, shoveling a short forehander from the left side after a Jason Pominville blast from the point knocked around in the slot and squirted out to the unguarded winger. Overall, the two leads were erased in an average of 52 seconds. To top it off, Stafford’s winner came only 4:02 after the equalizer.

“Nothing worse than that,’’ said Rask, referring to the quick givebacks. “You get the lead there and twice the same stuff happens. We have to be better than that.’’

Rask fell to 2-7-1 on the season. He did not have a bad night, similar to most of the nights when he has posted an ‘L’ when he was good enough to have come out with a ‘W’. But it’s equally true that, for whatever reason, the club has played better in front of Tim Thomas (14-2-3) all season. Be it luck or style (Thomas’s unorthodoxy vs. Rask’s strict butterfly style), the club has generated more mojo when Thomas has been between the pipes.

Now it’s on to Montreal to face the Canadiens tonight. The Capitals are in Boston Saturday evening. The Bruins will need more mojo, more scoring touch, and better discipline in these next two games, or suddenly some of the clubs in the bottom of the conference (the Sabres, for one) could be hacking at their heels for the final playoff seed.

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