The Buffalo Sabres played Wednesday’s game as a team desperately needing wins to keep its playoff hopes alive should: intelligent but physical, controlled but aggressive.
The Boston Bruins played as a team with a chance at the Eastern Conference’s top spot should not: lazy, disorganized, brainless.
Who do you think won?
The Sabres scored twice in each period Wednesday, cruising to a 6-0 blowout victory over the Bruins in Buffalo.
Poor Defense Rattles Rask
It was clear just minutes into the game that Tuukka Rask hadn’t brought his A-game to First Niagara Center. When Christian Ehrhoff fired from the blue line following a d-to-d pass from Tyler Myers, Rask misjudged the puck once it glanced off Gregory Campell, giving the Sabres a 1-0 lead on just their second shot of the game.
The Sabres went up 2-0 with just over five minutes left in the first when center Ville Leino made a nifty spin in the Bruins’ left circle, avoiding the defense and centering the puck to Jason Pominville. Pominville quickly chipped it in, with defenseman Mike Weber also assisting.
Clearly rattled by two goals that were as much his defense’s fault as his own, Rask lasted just 1:52 into the second period, when Andrej Sekera found Tyler Ennis in the neutral zone. Ennis changed direction twice in the Bruins’ zone, eluding multiple defenders before ricocheting a backhand off the goalpost and in for the 3-0 lead.
Rask exited the game following Ennis’ goal, having given up three goals in just 10 shots. It was his worst outing since lasting just one period and giving up three goals to the same Sabres on Jan. 1, 2010.
Thomas Can’t Hold Off Sabres Long
Tim Thomas replaced Rask, and for the first few minutes Thomas’ aggressive, energetic goaltending looked like it might hold the Sabres off long enough for a Bruins comeback. Following an interference call against a Zdeno Chara four minutes into the second, Thomas survived a Sabres power play in which they fired off seven rapid-fire shots before the Bruins finally cleared.
But such success would not last, especially with the unfocused, out-of-position hockey the defense continued to play. Strong puck possession by center Paul Gaustad in the Bruins’ circle led to a tight-angle shot for Patrick Kaleta. The puck deflected off Adam McQuaid‘s skates and between Thomas’ pads for a 4-0 lead late in the second.
The Bruins’ defense checked out for good in the third, leading to two more Sabres goals. Pominville scored his second when the Bruins left him completely alone in the crease for an easy rebound goal (Leino and original shooter Sekera assisted) at 1:18. Then Joe Corvo turned the puck over behind his own goal, leading to a simple two-stage pass from Nathan Gerbe to Ennis to Drew Stafford in front for a 6-0 lead with a minute left.
Miller and Defense Dominate Bruins
The Bruins appeared to tie the game midway through the first when Milan Lucic put a slapshot past Sabre goalie Ryan Miller, but a goalie-interference call against Rich Peverley wiped out the goal. Replays showed only the barest contact between the two.
That was the closest the Bruins would get to an actual goal Wednesday, as both Miller and his defense played error-free hockey the rest of the game, including through the Bruins’ 17 third-period shots (out of 36 total). The defense completely neutralized the Bruins’ fore-checking, always finding open men to advance the puck back across the blue line. They quickly cleared most shots Miller couldn’t corral to the sides, and they stood the Bruins up on those rare occasions when a loose puck bounced in front of the net.
The Sabres controlled the puck better, giving nothing away on defense. They passed better, hitting teammates in stride and on the stick-blades. And they skated better, winning numerous sprints for the puck.
The Brutal Bruins
Buffalo handled all the physicality the Bruins brought to the game – three fighting majors, three 10 minute misconducts and six two-minute penalties – without backing down or losing focus. No pointless, juvenile display of idiotic brutality (sorry: no “hockey fight“) upset Buffalo enough for them to make a mistake, and Boston never came away from a fight so fired up they made a play themselves.
Not even the massive “brawl” in the final minutes of the game – in which the referees handed out nine penalties – disrupted the Sabres’ near-perfect performance. Which begs the question: if fights don’t really motivate, or at least not as much as actually playing well, what point do they serve?