Bruins outduel Sabres in OT
‘Twas the Sunday before Christmas and all through the TD house, not a fan was stirring, not even a mouse.
Claude Julien and his sleigh of young bucks – still held dear in the hearts of the Bruins’ faithful – came home for Christmas for a rare Sunday evening matchup against the least-in-the-east Buffalo Sabres after a three-game road trip against some of the best in the west.
And desperately looking to get some red-lights as early gifts.
“This team is offensively challenged,” Bruins’ analyst Dale Arnold said on NESN Friday night.
“It’s going to be a tough haul to get back in the (playoff mix),” Julien said after that 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets to complete a 1-1-1 record with but three points and six total goals.
That makes 10 goals in the last five games and just that one win last Wednesday against the Wild in OT.
Before last night, the Black and Gold hadn’t won a game in regulation since December 4 and currently rank 21st in the league in goals per game, averaging just 2.47 goals per contest.
“I (wrack my brain) from midnight to six in the morning trying to figure out what I got to do next,” Julien said at his Sunday morning press conference.
Sunday it looked like maybe a rare no-contest was in the making against the Sabres who played Boston tough in a 3-2 overtime Bruins’ win the last time the two squared off on October 30.
Referee Dave Jackson waved off a Reilly Smith blast as a no-goal at 5:32 when the whistle came prematurely with Boston on the power play. That lump of coal seemed a bad omen as the first gift this week of Christmas.
Twenty-four seconds later, however, Dougie Hamilton, the No. 2 star of the game, hammered home his first of two goals from the faceoff circles, this one off a nifty Carl Soderberg feed to put the Bruins up, 1-0. It was Hamilton’s first tally since Thanksgiving. It was also Boston’s first power-play goal since December 6.
The Bruins were 9-5-2 when scoring first.
No shortage of other lumps – exchanged at 14:08 – between Marcus Foligno and Matt Bartkowski in a spirited three-round affair after Foligno took exception to a Bartkowski blind-side hit on Brian Gionta that sent the Buffalo captain to the ice.
And Bartkowski to the showers with a game misconduct and a five-minute major in his 100th career NHL game.
Shorthanded, Patrice Bergeron had his early gift packaged in the form a clean breakaway at 17:29, only to come up empty when Jhonas Enroth held his ground. The Bruins’ assistant captain has one goal in his last 13 games.
That proved costly when Andrej Meszaros evened it at 6:06 on a fluke play when Torey Krug deflected a Meszaros pass off his skate past Tuukka Rask.
The Sabres then pulled ahead, 2-1, on Rasmus Ristolainen’s power play goal at 14:36.
Albeit a short-lived lead.
A minute later, Chris Kelly deflected a Zdeno Chara shot from the point to knot it at 2-2 at the end of two. It was Kelly’s first since October 23.
In a common refrain, it came down once again to a one-period game. Did Boston benefit, given that the Sabres were laid out 24 hours before at home by the Avalanche, 5-1?
“Ho, ho, ho” became “woe, woe, woe” when Tim Schaller – the pride of Merrimack, New Hampshire, and Providence College – finished a wrap-around effort at 1:27, tying up Rask, and pushing the Sabres into the lead.
“Merry Christmas,” Tim. It was his first NHL goal in his third NHL game and the game-winner at the time.
A David Krejci backhand bullet snared by Enroth with six minutes to go seemingly summed up yet another anemic period for the Black and Gold.
But Rask would save the day for the upcoming heroics, denying a 2-on-0 Sabres break-in with 3:20 to go.
And setting the stage for Hamilton, who took the team from flat-line to OT with Rask on the pine and the Bruins’ with the man-advantage, converting a Bergeron pass from the right faceoff circle at 18:29 to send the game to OT. It gives Hamilton the lead in goals by a Boston blueliner with seven, one better than Torey Krug.
“It was getting a little scary when we were in a losing position,” Hamilton said after being voted the No. 2 star. “We got the late goals and luckily the win.”
“Sometimes he’s over aggressive,” Julien said about his young defenseman, “but tonight he was aggressive at the right time. He’s 21 and we’re getting a lot out of 21-year-old defenseman right now. Even if he has bad games he’s been pretty good overall.”
Loui Eriksson would send the sellout crowd into delirium at 2:14 of OT for the win, and the No. 1 star of the game.
“Loui was a real good player tonight wherever he was,” Julien said. “He’s played well.”
“It was a great play by (Lucic),” Eriksson said about the game-winning goal. “He saw me and put the puck right on my tape.”
Before the game, Julien said: “We hope that sooner than later that we’re going to get a little more depth in scoring.”
Looks like it’s still later. The Bruins play Tuesday when Nashville comes to town. Then three days off until a road game in Columbus Saturday night.
“It was a gut-check; credit the guys for battling,” Julien said about the outcome. “That was a tough goal to swallow at the beginning of the third. It took a long time to get that tying goal and get it to overtime. Wins are tough to come by these days.
“We’re still not in sync.”
Hang your stockings and say your prayers, folks, for some consistent offense from your local NHL team.