April 18, 2013

Postgame Breakdown: B's falter late, Sabres win in shootout

By Jesse Connolly

Drew Stafford, who has struggled to find the net all season, buried the game-winner in the shootout. (Getty Images)

I'm sure I need not inform you that Wednesday's game between the Bruins and Sabres was an unbelievably emotional evening at TD Garden. I'll have more on that aspect of the night in a separate entry. Here, we'll stick to hockey.

Final: Buffalo 3, Boston 2 (SO)

Recap: With 5:45 gone in the first period, former Sabre Dan Paille put his old team in an early hole, finishing off a nice feed from Chris Kelly to make it 1-0 Boston. Late in the opening frame, Zdeno Chara was assessed an incredibly weak interference call, which came on a hit against the puck-carrier, Mark Pysyk. Buffalo capitalized, as Thomas Vanek redirected a shot from the point by Christian Ehrhoff past Anton Khudobin to knot things up.

In the second, Paille and Kelly reversed roles from their goal earlier in the night, with the former now setting up the latter. Kelly's momentum was taking him towards the end boards, but he got a second whack at a loose puck and poked it past Ryan Miller to give the Black and Gold the lead back.

With 48 seconds left in regulation, Andrew Ference got slapped with the much-maligned, puck-over-the-glass penalty, putting Boston shorthanded as they attempted to cling to their one-goal lead. Vanek sent a high-speed pass to the top of the slot, with Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis in front. Hodgson got a hold of it and put it past Khudobin tie things up with 26 ticks to go.

After a scoreless overtime, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were denied in the shootout. The sixth shooter, Drew Stafford, scored the game-winner to give Buffalo the extra point.

Records: Buffalo 19-19-6, 44 points; Boston 26-11-5, 57 points

Key Play of the Game: The Bruins had plenty of chances in the second half of the contest to build on their lead, but they failed to capitalize on a number of quality opportunities. Some of that was their own doing, but the Sabres also made some nice plays. One standout moment was a shorthanded 2-on-1 in the third in which Ehrhoff cut off Bergeron's passing lane to Marchand then swept his stick across to disrupt No. 37's effort to carry the puck in further toward Miller.

Connolly's Commendations: Ryan Miller was sharper than a katana tonight. The Sabres' netminder, who -- much like Buffalo as a whole -- is in the midst of another trying season, stopped 41-of-43 in 65 minutes of action.

Kelly and Paille were pretty phenomenal together tonight. They had a goal and an assist each, combined for seven shots and were both plus-2. On top of that, Kelly won 12-of-18 faceoffs.

Boy, did Bergeron and Marchand show no signs of rust. The two were back in the lineup and teamed up with their usual linemate, Seguin. The trio combined for a whopping 14 shots on goal, generating a number of high-quality scoring chances. Bergeron won 13-of-17 faceoffs.

Connolly's Critiques: Nathan Horton skated on the right side with Paille and Kelly, and his plus-2 looks impressive on paper. But No. 18 had two harmless shots on goal, struggled repeatedly to get shots off and was prone to some sloppy over-passing. He also lucked out late in the game while forced to cover up on 'D' during a Sabres' 3-on-2. Horton lost his balance while skating backward, but luckily Buffalo didn't cash in.

Horton's evening wasn't nearly as frustrating as Milan Lucic's. The struggling winger put zero pucks on goal, had a really bad high-sticking penalty in the third period that put his team shorthanded for four minutes and was courteously not credited with any turnovers, though the eye test indicated he should've been on at least a few occasions. Lucic finished the night with under 11 minutes of ice time.

Notes: With the "loser" point, the Bruins clinched a playoff spot. They also moved up into a tie atop the Northeast Division, as both the Black and Gold and the Habs have 57 points. Boston currently owns the tiebreaker.

Final Thoughts: Stafford's winning goal was a kick in the pants, given that he has had a ton of trouble scoring this year and came into the night with no points in the last nine games. The Bruins played well enough to win, but with Miller on his 'A' game, they needed to be just a little bit better. Some unlucky penalties, and their inability to kill them off, ultimately did them in.

Next: The Bruins will play host to the Penguins on Friday night.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com