Things looked stacked against the Buffalo Sabres before they even took the ice against the Boston Bruins Sunday evening. Buffalo was playing their third game in fourth nights while Boston had been resting since Wednesday.
Perhaps fatigue played a role in the result, but the awful defense in their own zone has been a season-long problem. It continued Sunday at the First Niagara Center and the Bruins skated to a 3-1 win in a game that was close only because of the spectacular play of Ryan Miller.
Miller made 36 saves and a handful of them may end up on the season highlight film, but he got little help from the skaters in front of him for much of the night.
Buffalo did themselves no favors by giving Boston five power plays, including a five-on-three chance. The Sabres killed off the first four but the fifth resulted in a game-winning goal by Patrice Bergeron.
Todd Marchand and Milan Lucic also scored for Boston, who got 25 saves from Anton Khudobin in a rare start in place of Tukka Rask.
Tyler Ennis scored the lone Buffalo goal; his fifth of the season and third in his last four games.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff raised a few eyebrows by scratching defensemen Tyler Myers for a second straight game. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko also sat in the press box for the first time in his young career. Robyn Regehr returned to the lineup from injury, which sent T.J. Brennan out of the lineup.
There was no scoring in the first period but it wasn’t from a lack of chances. Boston peppered 16 shots at Miller over the first 20 minutes while Buffalo countered with 13 of their own at Khudobin.
The highlight of the period was a spirited brawl between Patrick Kaleta and Gregory Campbell. Kaleta hammered Adam McQuaid with a clean check along the boards and Campbell immediately charged after Kaleta, who initially didn’t want to fight. The referees didn’t step in and Kaleta eventually dropped his gloves (see video above) and started whaling on Campbell, throwing 18 left hands with many connecting to the delight of a raucous crowd.
Buffalo killed off two penalties early in the second and were clearly gassed as a result. Miller made numerous big saves and robbed Nathan Horton blind on a pad save, but even his heroics couldn’t keep the Bruins off the scoreboard forever.
Boston finally got on the board with a goal on Brad Marchand snap shot at 7:10 on his team’s 24th shot. It was Marchand’s third goal in two games against Buffalo this season.
The Sabres tied it late in the second at 18:01 when Drew Stafford threaded a perfect pass along the boards to a streaking Ennis, who patiently put a backhand past Khudobin.
Buffalo did a great job at killing penalties all night, but a Mike Weber delay of game penalty led to a fifth Bruins power play and this time Boston took advantage when Bergeron scored at 7:52 of the third.
The game nearly got put out of reach by Boston soon after, but Miller made a ridiculous glove save on Bergeron when he broke in all alone.
Buffalo got some pressure late but couldn’t get the tying score. With Miller on the bench in favor of the extra attacker Boston cleared the puck and Lucic put the game away with an empty netter with 49 seconds left.
The loss ended a two game Buffalo winning streak. They return to action Tuesday night when they travel to Ottawa before returning home for another skate with Boston next Friday.