Anton Khudobin skates away as the Sabres celebrate their third goal of the third period.
If you turned the television off after the second period, you missed a lot. Through two periods, it looked as if the Bruins would beat the seemingly disinterested Buffalo Sabres with ease in front of their restless fans for the second time in less than a week. Then came the third, however, and the screws just simply fell off the wagons for the B’s as they blew a 2-1 second-intermission lead and inexplicably fell to the Sabres, 4-2, while only registering three shots on goal in the final frame.
For the second straight game, the Bruins found themselves down by two late in the third, but there would be no magic in the final minutes tonight. Widely regarded as one of the best third-period teams in the league, the Bruins allowed three goals in the final 20 minutes against the Sabres for the second time this year. Seven of the eight third-period goals the team has allowed through 12 games in 2013 have come at the hands of Buffalo. Former Canuck, Christian Ehrhoff, scored what turned out to be the game winner at 9:02 of the third period when Drew Stafford played the puck out in front of the net and Rich Peverley failed to control it. He beat Anton Khudobin to the stick side with an extremely quick release and gave the Sabres the 3-2 lead.
“We should have closed that game in the second period. If we bury them it’s a different game in the third period. Got caught off guard there and it ended up costing us the game,” said Claude Julien in his postgame interview. The B’s had all of the momentum after 40 minutes and appeared to take their foot of the gas in their first back-to-back losses of the year. With plenty of chances to extend their lead in the second, Ryan Miller stood strong with some more acrobatic saves.
The Bruins came out flying and dominated the first few minutes of the high-octane action with much of the play being conducted in Buffalo’s end. Stafford would get Buffalo on the board first, however, as he took the feed from Tyler Ennis, who won the puck behind the net, and beat Khudobin stick side as no one was around him. It was Stafford’s first goal of the season and first since March 31 of last year. Andrew Ference, who finished the game at minus-2, ran into Adam McQuaid behind the Bruins’ net to help free up plenty of space.
The sloppiness continued for the remainder of the game with multiple instances of turnovers in their own end that led to Buffalo opportunities and a few goals. Buffalo finished the game with 13 takeaways to six for the Bruins.
It would remain 1-0 until 17:56 of the first at the tail end of a Bruins power-play. With Stafford in the box for a trip on Brad Marchand, Dougie Hamilton connected on the first goal of his NHL career to tie the game at one. Again, a flurry deep in the Buffalo zone saw Miller sliding around on the ice and plenty of open net behind him. After initially being unable to get a shot off, Tyler Seguin found David Krejci in front of the net, who eventually worked the puck to Hamilton for the shot.
Milan Lucic then made sure to retrieve the puck for the youngster, who was in the midst of an emphatic celebration.
“[It was a] dream come true – couldn’t stop smiling until the second period,” said Hamilton on the goal.
Dougie Hamilton poses with the puck that crossed the goal line for his first NHL goal in the Bruins’ locker room after the game.
Shots were 12-10 in favor of Boston after one and 2:29 into the second, they struck again, this time with Hamilton picking up an assist. With veteran poise, he shot the puck intentionally wide and it took a very lively bounce up over the Sabres’ net where it somehow found the blade of Peverley’s stick and he beat Miller top shelf to make it 2-1 B’s. Unfortunately, that would be it for the scoring as the Sabres would get the only three in the third.
“We should have came out of the second with a better lead than one goal,” said Shawn Thornton. “We have to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” added Zdeno Chara, referring to the let-up following the second intermission.
After registering just six shots on net in the second period, it was the Sabres who came out flying in the third and it paid off as they scored another early goal. This time, Tyler Myers beat Khudobin, who made the initial save on a two-on-one, but once again there were no Bruins in the slot and the long rebound came out right on to Myers’ stick for the easy putback. Nathan Gerbe and Jochen Hecht picked up the assists on Myers’ second of the year. The goal came just after Boston had a two-on-one of their own, but couldn’t capitalize.
Cody Hodgson, another former Canuck, made it 4-2 just under three minutes later off another pass from behind the net. It was Hodgson’s sixth of the year from Myers and Ehrhoff.
A good deal of practice tomorrow is probably going to be spent on work in the defensive zone, I would imagine, as the B’s were just brutal in their own end, particularly in the third period. Boston saw its plus-10 third-period goal differential sink to plus-seven with the three tallies. In fact, the Bruins gave up as many third-period goals (three) as the number of posts they hit on the night. A lucky bounce here or there and this one could have (and should have) gone the other way.
The Bruins’ point streak ended at four with just their second regulation loss of the year (both to Sabres). Miller won the 24th game of his career against Boston, tying him with Martin Brodeur for the most by an active goalie against any one team. He robbed both Seguin and Chris Kelly on point-blank chances in the third.
Ennis now has five points in three games against the Bruins this year. Hamilton registered his first points since Jan. 28 against the Hurricanes and scored the first goal by a teenaged Bruins defenseman since Jonathan Girard in 1999.
Khudobin fell to 7-2 in his NHL career, but did make 22 saves in the effort. Miller improved to 6-6-1 with 30 saves. The three stars of the game were Miller, Stafford and Hamilton.
Boston fell to 8-2-2, remaining atop the Northeast Division by one point and are still in second place in the East, now three points behind the Devils. Buffalo improved to 6-8-1 with 13 points.
The B’s continue their five-game road trip on Sunday evening at Winnipeg. Puck drop is at 6 p.m.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.