Count to 10
Bruins knock Sabres down in shootout
BUFFALO - The night that began with a long-anticipated duke-out ended with a shootout. And when all the ice chips cleared, the Bruins ruled both.
Boston winger Benoit Pouliot, the 10th participant in the shootout, scored the only goal in the extra session, beating Jhonas Enroth with a short-range forehander and lifting the Bruins to a 4-3 win over the Sabres before a full house at the First Niagara Center.
The victory, the 10th in a row for the Bruins, inched the Stanley Cup champs closer to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. It also once again silenced a Buffalo squad that talked for days about extracting some payback - and some requisite pride - for a Milan Lucic hit Nov. 12 at the TD Garden that left star Sabres netminder Ryan Miller with a concussion.
It’s the first time in a decade that a Stanley Cup winner has rattled off 10 wins in the season following its championship. The Devils, Cup champs in 2000, clicked off 13 in a row during the 2000-01 season.
Lucic, as expected, was forced to battle Sabres winger Paul Gaustad, the heavyweights throwing down with just more than a minute gone in the first period. Lucic won the combat d’honneur handily, ducking a couple of stiff right uppercuts and eventually dropping Gaustad to the ice after landing a handful of shots to the big winger’s head over a span of some 35-40 seconds.
“It wasn’t much of a conversation,’’ said Lucic. “It was straight to the point.’’
The skirmish had very little bearing on how the rest of the night played out, including the remaining 58:37 of regulation, 5:00 of overtime, then the 10-man shootout bucket brigade. The Bruins, after stumbling to a 2-0 deficit in the first on a pair of Sabres’ power-play strikes, built momentum through the second and third periods, and used goals by Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara to force OT. Boston’s game got bigger through the night. Buffalo’s shrank.
Chara’s strike, his third of the season, was Boston’s second on the power play, knotting it at 3 with 3:35 gone in the third. The Sabres appeared to bolt ahead again, 4-3, only 49 seconds later when Derek Roy knocked one by Tim Thomas, but the cagey Sabres forward clearly had his stick above the crossbar when he batted in a Drew Stafford rebound.
The next puck to go in the net was Pouliot’s shot, after Thomas stuffed Thomas Vanek, Nathan Gerbe, Jason Pominville, Roy, and Stafford in the shootout. In the other net, Enroth, who has taken over for the injured Miller, held ground on Seguin, Rich Peverley, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron. The gangly Pouliot ambled in slowly and ripped his forehander high into the net, just under the crossbar and over Enroth’s left shoulder.
“I’m not sure, honestly,’’ said Pouliot, asked what he was thinking as he closed in on Enroth. “I had seen everyone going low with their shots, and I could see he was dropping his shoulder a little. So I just went high and, good thing, he didn’t get it. I was creeping in their slowly and just went high a little.’’
The Sabres forged their early lead by the 15:22 mark on power-play goals by Christian Ehrhoff and Vanek. The Bruins were without their skating legs and were getting the worst of some very questionable calls by the referees.
“The guys were frustrated, and I was frustrated, too,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We kept getting those penalties. So we came in here after the first period and said, ‘That’s not how we’re going to win.’ And we got some momentum going in the second and third periods. I thought we played much better.’’
Seguin fired in a one-time bomb from high in the left circle at 3:37 of the second to cut it to 2-1. TJ Brennan’s first career goal made it 3-1 for the Sabres with 11:02 gone in the second, threatening again to blow it open for the Sons of Lake Erie. But just less than five minutes later, Marchand again chipped one back. The L’il Ball o’ Hate jumped to the right post and made a John Bucyk-like quick left of a Bergeron rebound, leaving it a one-goal game at the intermission. The stage was set for the Chara equalizer.
Thomas stopped eight shots in the third, four more in the overtime (which included a runover power play at four-on-three), and then went an airtight 5 for 5 in the shootout. It’s rare these days that he gives up three goals on a given night, but he was perfect when needed.
“I don’t watch video of the shooters,’’ said Thomas. “Some guys do, but I prefer to wing it. I just try to get the timing down and react, to be honest with you. And tonight, I just got the timing down.’’
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.