Bruins come out flat, Sabres roll over them
In a season trending the right way for the Bruins the last couple of weeks — with more people scoring, line combinations less static, and defensemen finally handling the puck like something other than a 5-pound chunk of granite — the struggling Buffalo Sabres came to town last night and gave the Black and Gold a reality check.
And the reality was, the Bruins were mediocre at best, and overall just plain bad.
Led by Thomas Vanek, who at his best can be one of the game’s most potent wingers, the Sabres scored twice in the third period and polished off the Bruins, 4-2, in front of a full house of 17,565 at TD Garden.
After falling behind, 1-0 and 2-1, the pesky Sabres, in desperate need of points to remain in playoff contention, handed the Bruins only their second regulation loss in the last seven games.
“The first two periods, we sat back, we were kind of sleepy,’’ said Bruins winger Brad Marchand, summarizing much of the evening, one that had Tuukka Rask losing for a 10th time this season (4-10-1). “That hurt us in the end.’’
“Start to finish,’’ said coach Claude Julien, “we were totally flat tonight. We came out flat and never seemed to find our game.’’
Vanek broke a 2-2 deadlock with 5:13 gone in the third period, closing down the right wing and snapping in a 15-footer — dotting the top of the net with an artist’s touch.
The jawbreaker came with 3:20 left, this time with Vanek carrying down on the left wing and lasering a pass to the crease for a rushing Jason Pominville to smack by Rask.
The loss was all too reminiscent of many of Rask’s games this season. A workhorse in the Boston net last season, he has struggled to win all season. As in many of his losses, he wasn’t bad, but he could have been sharper, and the team in front of him could have been much sharper.
“Obviously, I could have stopped all four,’’ said Rask, speaking in theory rather than practicality. “But . . . not that I really had a chance. I played bad, not the greatest game . . . but it just happens, you know?’’
“It’s unfortunate for Tuukka,’’ said Julien, calling it a coincidence that Rask has been in net for a number of the club’s “off’’ nights. “You hope we can rally and win one for him, because he really needs that, but it didn’t happen tonight.’’
For the most part, it was the typical back-and-forth track meet that these squads have staged through the decades. Good action. Decent battles. And high entertainment value, including a cracked pane of glass and a couple of shots from Boston sticks that sent two Sabres (Mike Weber and Patrick Kaleta) off the dressing room.
Weber made it back. Kaleta took a shot off his left hand, previously fractured this year, and did not return.
The Bruins jumped on the board first with a Dennis Seidenberg goal at 11:01 of the opening period. Marc Savard won a draw in the left circle, leading to a Mark Stuart pass to the point slot that had Seidenberg hammering home a long one-timer for his fourth goal of the season.
The Sabres won but 13 of the 36 faceoffs over the first two periods.
Buffalo came back with the equalizer only 1:04 into the second when Cody McCormick potted his second chance, following up his own rebound from a shot that rang off the post with a loud “ping!’’ that echoed through the building. McCormick slithered into the slot, picked up the loose puck, and fired it by a near-defenseless Rask.
The sides then traded goals in just under six minutes, creating the 2-2 tie to start the third. Greg Campbell notched Boston’s go-ahead goal with a quick snap in the slot after some work by Shawn Thornton deep in the Boston end.
Thornton’s dish to the middle had linemate Blake Wheeler applying a nice touch pass that acted as the perfect setup for Campbell to drive in his seventh in a Boston uniform.
But only 5:45 later, with 10:36 gone in the period, ex-Boston College center Nathan Gerbe sniped in a wrister from the left circle on a power play. The shot came at the end of some fancy tic-tac-toe passing, Tyler Ennis to Tyler Myers and then to Gerbe, the kind of quick-pass artistry rarely seen in today’s game.
“It’s going to happen,’’ said Julien. “You hope tonight you are going to win — it’s a home game, 2 points. All you can hope to do is correct it by playing a solid game the next game.’’