The Sabres continued their strong 2009 play, earning an impressive 4-2 victory against Boston on Bruin ice. In doing so Buffalo snapped the Bruins 14 game winning streak and 10 game home winning streak. Quite simply, Buffalo outworked the Bruins and when the Sabres work hard, they can play with anyone.
Lack of work ethic had been precisely the Sabres problem as 2008 wound down. Coach Lindy Ruff pulled every lever to get the Sabres back in gear, openly criticising his top players' effort and reducing their ice time. Whatever he did, it has worked as the Sabres have now won two in a row.
The Sabres came out in this game much as they did two days ago against Toronto, forechecking aggressively and taking the body. Several of the Bruins even appeared to be surprised when a Sabres player crashed into them as physical play has not been the Sabres hallmark in previous games.
Just 3:20 into the game, the Sabres hard work was rewarded when Tallinder threw a puck at the net, it deflected down behind Bruin goalie Tim Thomas and Matt Ellis was able to out-muscle the Bruin d-man to knock the puck in.
A few minutes later, the Sabres continued pressure resulted in a power play. The Sabres have been effective of late with the man advantage, recording a goal in the last seven games; tonight, they looked especially sharp.
When Spacek received a pass, he skated deeper into the zone, drawing the Bruin checker with him. He passed back to Roy, who had filled in behind him, who quickly sent the puck cross ice to the wide-open Pominville. Pominville fired and Vanek, who was camped in his favorite spot in front of the net, deflected it past Thomas for his 26th goal.
Kessel gave the Bruins life five minutes later on a sweet play by Marc Savard who faked a shot that brought Miller to his knees and then passed cross ice to Kessel for an easy goal.
The Sabres didn't wilt. Early in the second period, Ellis crashed the boards and caused another turnover. The Sabres controlled and Ellis picked up Kotalik's rebound, skated a few strides away from the fallen Thomas and fired it into the open net for his second goal of the night.
Boston's second goal was a bit scary in that it reminded what happens when the Sabres are careless with the puck. Some loose play in the neutral zone led to a turnover, and Boston quickly reversed the puck. St. Pierre hit a streaking Thornton who walked in to about 25 feet and fired a wrist shot over Miller's outstretched glove.
But Buffalo did not fold. After some more good work in deep, Ellis passed back to Sekera, whose shot was deflected and appeared to bank in off a Boston defenseman but Gaustad was credited with the goal.
Ellis has been impressive since being called up from Portland eight games ago, earning Ruff's praise as one of the few players that had been exhibiting any hustle during the Sabres losing streak. His two goals and assist in this big game show the value of effort and are a reward for the extra ice time his play has earned. Ellis' gain is Afinogenov's loss as Max only saw the ice for a minute and a half.
In the third period, the Sabres went into defensive mode, dumping the puck in, forechecking only one forward, and keeping their shifts down to thirty seconds. As in football, the dreaded 'prevent' defense usually only serves to prevent the team that is leading from winning, as the Bruins outshot the Sabres 11-2 in the final stanza.
But Miller was stout, and the Sabres paid the price with determination in the defensive zone, channeling the puck to the outside and clearing rebounds. The Bruins had a gift-wrapped chance to make it interesting when Vanek took an ill advised hooking penalty with two minutes to go, allowing the Bruins a two man advantage when they pulled their goalie. But the Bruins could not take advantage and the Sabres left the ice with a hard won and well deserved victory.
The Bruins have been the NHL's hottest team and beating them in Boston is a big win for Buffalo. Not only does it move them into playoff contention tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with Carolina, this win should give them a dose of confidence that their improved play of late will pay off in W's.
With the kind of effort the Sabres showed today, solid goaltending from Miller, and continued focus on avoiding the lazy turnover, the Sabres can be contenders.