The Boston Bruins didn’t arrive on time for Saturday’s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres.
It still didn’t matter.
Right now, they’re in a place where they can overcome any bout of in-game adversity. They encountered a handful of self-inflicted moments through the first half of their tilt in Buffalo, including their neutral-zone turnover on Tage Thompson’s shorthanded tally in the opening frame.
Once again, Jim Montgomery’s squad persevered. Keith Kinkaid stymied the Sabres with multiple quality stops while the Bruins slowly found their skating legs.
After a costly turnover on Thompson’s marker, Boston’s power play bounced back to tie the game at 1-1 on Patrice Bergeron’s backhanded tally with 1:09 left in the middle frame.
The Bruins established better habits in the third, peppering Craig Anderson with 15 shots as Kinkaid provided more timely saves. Their resilient effort paid off late in the third as Jakub Zboril notched his first career goal on a brilliant setup from Tomas Nosek to put the Bruins ahead for good at 12:31 of the final stanza.
The reunited trio of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak capped off the 3-1 victory with 1:49 remaining in regulation on a Harlem Globetrotter-like sequence, leading to Bergeron’s second goal of the night and seventh of the season.
“It’s not always going to be your ‘A’ game, and it definitely wasn’t. I’m not sure it was either an ‘A’ or ‘B’ game tonight,” Bergeron told NESN’s Adam Pellerin. “The first 40 was tough. I thought the third was a lot better, and we got the result. A lot of great saves by Kinky [Kinkaid], and it got us going to get the lead.”
For the first time since Tuukka Rask’s last career start on Jan. 24, the Bruins tabbed someone other than Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman to protect their crease.
With Swayman recovering from a lower-body injury, Kinkaid knew he’d get one of the starts in Boston’s back-to-back this weekend. In a somewhat surprising development, the Bruins didn’t schedule Ullmark to get the start against his former team and went with Kinkaid.
Ullmark received a much-deserved breather after starting the previous six games. Kinkaid filled in admirably in his first NHL start since Dec. 15, 2021.
“They came out early and often, so it was good to get in the game right away and see some far shots,” Kinkaid told the media. “We prevailed in the end… not the best two periods, but I just wanted to give my team a shot, and they did the rest.”
Indeed Kinkaid faced a slew of quality scoring chances. Eventually, the Bruins provided support for Kinkaid after the young Sabres created multiple opportunities on odd-man rushes, rebounds, tips, and quick shots from the slot.
“Great job by Keith for giving us an opportunity to stay in it for two periods,” Montgomery told Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley. “And then in the third period… for whatever reason, that’s been our best period all year. The guys played well as a five-man unit in every zone. Great job by Zboril there, getting the game-winner for us.”
Zboril finally lights the lamp.
After a rocky tenure to start his career in the Bruins organization, the 2015 first-round selection performed well enough at training camp to earn an opening-night roster spot. But Zboril hasn’t solidified a spot on Boston’s blue line quite yet.
At times, Zboril showcases flashes of potential as a late-developing two-way blue-liner. In other instances, he struggles against heavier, physical scoring lines and turns the puck over at inopportune times.
Given Connor Clifton’s emergence and a more well-rounded top-four with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk back, Zboril’s ceiling, for now, remains as a bottom-pairing defenseman. And he might not be there for long, depending on Derek Forbort’s recovery from a hand injury and the Bruins’ salary cap situation.
With a threat of returning to the press box hovering over him, Zboril needs to make the most of every shift. Amid the team’s slow start, Zboril found himself at the right place at the right time in a pivotal moment for his first career goal.
The sequence began with Nosek shrugging off a defender to win a puck battle. He subsequently found Zboril at the point for a timely feed to his fellow countryman. With time and space, Zboril finally earned that long-awaited tally in his 65th career NHL game.
“I don’t think I deserved it today, but I’ve waited long enough for it,” Zboril said after becoming the 19th different Bruin to score a goal this season. “It finally feels good to get rewarded.”
Ironically, Zboril’s goal became a microcosm of Boston’s night. It wasn’t pretty, but the Bruins earned another win through grinding means.
The five-forward power play unit recovered.
Without a defenseman to save them, the Bruins found themselves in catchup mode against Thompson with five forwards on the top power-play unit. The former UConn product nabbed his 11th goal of the season without much resistance after Pastrnak turned the puck over near Boston’s attacking zone blue line.
The Bruins could’ve deployed a defenseman for their second-period opportunity. Instead, Montgomery trotted out the same all-forward group of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
This time, they established extensive puck possession in the attacking end, creating looks through one-timer attempts from Marchand, Pastrnak and Krejci. On their final blast, Bergeron found himself alone in front to bury the equalizer on DeBrusk’s feed following Anderson’s initial save on Marchand.
The five-forward look might not last much longer once McAvoy becomes fully comfortable with each increasing workload. The Bruins also used Hampus Lindholm for a time on the top power-play unit earlier this year.
When that time comes, Montgomery and the coaching staff will likely move DeBrusk or Krejci to the secondary unit.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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