Buffalo, NY - Since the Bruins’ 7-4 loss the last time they faced the Sabres at TD Garden, they have allowed only two goals in the ensuing three games. With tonight’s 3-1 win over Buffalo, the B’s 8-1-1 record is now their best 10-game start in franchise history, besting the 16 of 20 points earned in four previous seasons - the last time it happened, it was more than 30 years ago during the 1978-79 season.
“It is, especially in our situation where the front part of our schedule is extremely light compared to the back end of it,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien on the impact of the strong start. “I think it’s important to get off to a good start. The way the schedule was made, we’re going to be behind in games played by the end of this month. So, it’s important to stay at least in the playoff pack and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
Superstition usually gets the best of me, but there’s no taking away this start from the Black & Gold - it has not come easily, but through hard-earned wins, like tonight’s at First Niagara Center.
“I find that we are really earning our goals these days,” said Coach Julien, after the B’s outshot the Sabres 39-26, facing a usually hot goaltender in the game’s Second Star, Ryan Miller. “They’re not coming easily, we spent a lot of time in the offensive zone which is a good sign. We were skating well, we were creating turnovers, but it’s nice to see us find a way to score those extra goals there at the end.”
After a tight start to the game, with a scoreless first period, it was Brad Marchand - in his first game back since leaving the Bruins’ game in Toronto on February 2 after colliding with the boards - who gave the B’s a 1-0 lead in the second period. When Andrew Ference faked a slap shot and fed Marchand the puck at the left faceoff circle, No. 63 picked a corner and beat Miller over his glove hand for his team-leading sixth of the season.
“He played a good game. He can shoot that puck extremely well, so it was nice to see him come back and have an impact right away,” said Coach Julien.
“At this level, I think everybody’s prepared every day to play,” said Marchand on his readiness being back in the lineup for the first time in more than a week. “When you’re out it’s not like you’re having a day off, it’s almost harder to sit out and not play than it is to play. They push you very hard and make sure you’re not taking a step back by missing a day. They did a great job with that and I felt great when I was out there.”
Last time out against Buffalo, Thomas Vanek scored a hat trick against the Bruins - tonight, he was nearly invisible for the Sabres, a sign of their much tighter defensive play.
“He had to be [limited] because he certainly wasn’t the last time, in Boston,” said Coach Julien of Vanek. “He really did some big damage on our hockey club. I didn’t think we were extremely good defensively back in Boston, we gave them, all their guys lots of space and room to make plays. Tonight it was about tightening up our defensive game and by doing that I thought we killed the plays early and spent more time in our offensive zone.”
“Especially last time we played Buffalo, we made some decisions that we don’t usually make,” said defenseman Adam McQuaid following the win. “We gave them a lot of odd man rushes and opportunities that they were able to take advantage of and they have the guys to do it. Tonight we tried to limit those.”
When the Sabres did get their chances, it was Anton Khudobin’s solid “First Star” level of play that kept the B’s in the game, finishing the game with 25 saves.
“He’s played well and he looks very comfortable in net for us,” said Coach Julien of his incredibly capable No. 2 goaltender. “I don’t know if he feels comfortable with the guys playing in front of him, but he looks comfortable, there weren’t many rebounds, he gobbled everything up, I thought he was solid.”
And thanks to Dobby’s play, before Milan Lucic could net an empty-netter to seal the 3-1 win, it was Patrice Bergeron - on the power play, nevertheless - who gave the B’s the game-winner early in the third period, when he pounced on a rebound off the end boards that came right to him.
“It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time, since the beginning of the year is we need to create some momentum out of our power play and score some goals, find ways to score goals,” said Bergeron. “That was a timely goal, especially in that third period to get the lead.”
“I think we’ve got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Character has been key, so far. We haven’t had our best game every time, we’ve found ways to battle back and get back in the game, get the lead.”
“Montreal was a good example, we had a bad start but found a way to win the game in the third,” Bergeron added on the B’s ability to stick with their game and find ways to win. “At the same time, we can’t be satisfied, we have to realize we have to play 60 minutes, can’t let down because we’re playing some really good teams right now. We know it’s a short season, every game is really important.”
-Caryn Switaj ^CS
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