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Sabres 2, Bruins 1

Sabres beat Rask, Bruins in shootout

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / February 25, 2012
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BUFFALO - Last night at the First Niagara Center, the Bruins played the Sabres even for 40 minutes, got the better of the Sabres in the third period, and had a few sniffs in overtime.

For all that, the Bruins were saddled with a 2-1 shootout loss when Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy slipped pucks behind Tuukka Rask. Vanek surprised the goalie with a slapper from the slot while Roy beat Rask with a backhand glove side.

Ryan Miller allowed David Krejci to shove a puck between his pads, but stood tall against Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, and Benoit Pouliot to backstop the Sabres to the win.

That said, the Bruins weren’t discouraged by the 1-point night.

“It was a hard-fought game,’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I thought the first two periods was pretty even. I thought we were obviously the better team out there in the third. It’s going to be those kinds of games from here on in as teams fight for playoff spots. There’s going to be tight games. You’d like to see your team score a little more. But I think overall, the effort and the commitment was there tonight. I think we’re going in the right direction.’’

What Julien especially liked was how hard his team battled in the third period. The Bruins were down, 1-0, after 40 minutes, but they picked up the pace in the third, firing 15 pucks at Miller. One went in.

At 2:46, Christian Ehrhoff put the puck into the safety netting and was called for delay of game. On the power play, Zdeno Chara found the back of the net.

Prior to the goal, Roy corralled a loose puck deep in the left corner and tried to fire it down the ice. But Chara read the play, stepped in front, and kept it from leaving the zone. As Chara wound up for a blast, Milan Lucic posted up on Tyler Myers. With all that beef serving as a double screen, Miller didn’t have much chance to see Chara’s shot until the puck was behind him at 3:36, tying the game at 1.

“I picked a side where he could go with the puck,’’ Chara said of anticipating Roy’s clearing attempt. “It worked. From that close, I was just trying to put a good shot on the net. It just went in.’’

Not only did Chara provide the Bruins’ only offense of the night, but the captain also prevented the winning goal. At 19:36 of the third, Vanek was called for high-sticking Johnny Boychuk. The Sabres killed the penalty, which led to a glittering overtime chance for Vanek once he stepped out of the box.

With Rask scrambling to get back into position, Vanek only had to backhand the puck from a sharp angle into an open net. Chara recovered and lunged with his stick to break up Vanek’s chance.

“I wasn’t sure if he was behind me,’’ Rask said of Vanek. “I was just focused on the shot and the shooter. Z read it and he got his stick on it. Good play by him.’’

Rask (26 saves) is now winless in his last six starts and hasn’t posted a victory since Jan. 16. But he was encouraged by how he battled amid a stretch where his confidence hasn’t been as high as he’d prefer.

The last few days, goaltending coach Bob Essensa has been preaching patience with Rask. With Rask not being as comfortable as he’d like, he’s been dropping into his butterfly too quickly and leaving too much real estate up top.

Rask couldn’t do much to avoid that on Buffalo’s only goal. In the second period, after Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford won wall battles in the Boston zone, Andrej Sekera had a point-blank chance from the slot. Sekera sniped a shot high glove on Rask at 14:45 to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.

For the rest of the night, Rask was square to shooters, efficient with his rebounds, and generally in control of his game.

“It has been a weakness of mine lately,’’ Rask said of going down too early. “It has a lot to do with confidence. [Essensa] came here and we started to work on that. It’s good when somebody tells you that. You don’t necessarily realize it yourself. It’s not always an easy thing to do when you’re not feeling the best you’ve ever felt. It’s a challenge mentally to stay patient and stay up. But it’s a step forward for me.’’

Tonight at Scotiabank Place, the Bruins wrap up their six-game trip with a crucial match against Ottawa. The Senators are only 3 points behind the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead.

The teams will square off again Tuesday at TD Garden, one day after the trade deadline.

“This is where a lot of things will be decided - whether we make it a tight race or we really push them down,’’ said Julien, whose team has played three fewer games than the Senators. “Those games in hand will really be handy if you win those.’’

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