By Dan Rubin
BOSTON, MA – If the phrase “controversy creates cash,” holds true, then the Boston Bruins were money for all the wrong reasons on Thursday night at home.
After two days of conjecture regarding Zdeno Chara’s lack of suspension for his hit on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, and with news filtering in of a possible criminal investigation in Montreal, the Bruins tried to return to a sense of normalcy and comfort when they hosted the Buffalo Sabres at the TD Garden. But any sense of normalcy went out the window in a penalty-filled affair; as the Bruins skated away on the losing end of a 4-3, overtime game.
“I think with everything that’s happened in the last few days, we reacted very well,” said head coach Claude Julien following the loss. “We were playing well in the first period, and we were doing alright in the second period. Then there were some tough calls kind of took the momentum away from us.”
The Bruins didn’t waste any time jumping on the Sabres. Just under three minutes into the game, Horton intercepted a Buffalo clear at the right wing hashes. Coming in from in between the faceoff circles, he was able to deke through the defenders without so much as a scratch. But Miller held his own to stone the winger and keep it scoreless.
The relentless attack continued throughout the frame, as the Bruins amassed 15 shots. Three minutes after Horton, Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley got into the fray, putting a shot and a rebound right on Miller. Once again, though, Miller was able to hold off the Bruins attack.
But the Bruins finally found enough holes in the Buffalo defense to get an odd-man rush and strike with their top line of Lucic-Krejci-Horton. Krejci crossed the blue and dished to the right for Lucic. Closing in on the crease, Lucic chose to go across ice to Horton, pushing Miller off balance. Horton stuffed the puck home to pot his 19th of the season at 8:54, pushed Boston ahead, 1-0. The Bruins finished the period ahead by that one-goal lead, outshooting the Sabres by a four-shot margin that felt a lot larger than it ended up.
Buffalo could take consolation in the first by winning the game’s only fight to that point, when Cody McCormick dropped the gloves and then dropped the body of Gregory Campbell. Although Campbell got one decent shot in on McCormick, the fight was decidedly one-sided.
The Sabres entered the second as a decidedly different team, controlling the game flow for much of the period. They also saw extended amounts of time on the power play thanks to a number of penalties whistled on the Bruins. Among them were ticky-tack calls against both Chara and Dennis Seidenberg for boarding and crosschecking, respectively. The bad calls got the Garden crowd lively, as the Bruins killed off an extended 4-on-3.
Chara eventually quarterbacked a play that gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead. After leaving the blue line up the left wing, he led himself too far with the puck, but used his entire 6-foot-9-inch frame to move the puck towards the middle. Michael Ryder took an initial shot that Miller stopped, but Mark Recchi was right in the slot for the put back to give the Black and Gold their double-tally lead. That lead lasted all of seven seconds, however, as Tyler Ennis potted his 15th of the year.
As the period wore on, the Bruins endured five penalties. This allowed the Sabres to dictate the pace of the game, and Thomas Vanek tied the game on the rebound by ramming the puck by Tim Thomas with just over a minute to go. With the game tied, Adam McQuaid, Horton, and Lucic took matters into their own hands. McQuaid dominated a fight with fellow heavyweight Paul Gaustad, a fight Gaustad seemed to be aching for after he snow coned Thomas midway through the period. Horton and Lucic then engaged in extracurricular activity, punctuated by Lucic dropping the mitts with McCormick. This allowed the Bruins to retain a measure of pride and heart into the locker room, although they had surrendered their lead in a period in which they were outshot 22-7.
“We had two guys with sticks in their hands get slashed, and we didn’t get calls,” said Julien. “It’s pretty obvious we had a tough night.”
The Bruins retook the lead in the first three minutes, when Campbell bounced a rebound by Miller at 2:28 of the period. Thornton passed to Chara up top at the point, which promptly unloaded one of his rockets. Miller made the initial save, but the rebound came right to Campbell, who one-timed it by the all-world netminder for his tenth of the year.
As if on cue, the Bruins immediately went down two men when Recchi and Brad Marchand went to the box within 15 seconds of each other. Recchi received a high-sticking minor; while Marchand received a tripping minor, affording Buffalo a 1:46 two-man advantage. Thomas and the Boston defense held their own for 1:20 of that advantage, before the numbers game crashed the net to put another second-chance goal across the goal line. It was officially credited to Tim Connolly, his 9th tally of the year, at 5:05 of the third. Although the Bruins had a couple of chances late, they couldn’t put rattle the twine, forcing free hockey on Causeway St.
Peverly had a chance to end the game in the extra-session, when he took a shot that beat Miller on the blocker-side. But the iron got in the way, and the pick ricocheted wide off the post. Recchi had a similar look, but it was stripped away. The ensuing 2-on-2 allowed Buffalo a look on Thomas. He made the initial stop, but Boyes caught a rebound off a Nathan Gerbe attempt. The Type-A shot banked home, and Buffalo walked away with a 4-3 win at 3:42 of the extra session.
“It was a knuckler high,” said Thomas. “Can’t really control the rebound coming out of there. You try to put it up in the air for guys to get back, but it didn’t work out that way.”
The game featured 11 penalties on the Bruins, including the big boarding call on Chara. “There’s still things hanging over our heads right now,” said Julien. “It doesn’t seem to want to disappear. And those are situations that are unfortunately, and they’re not easy to deal with for anybody. It goes past the game itself. We’re talking about individuals. We don’t wish (the injury to Pacioretty) on anybody. And that kind of stuff doesn’t disappear overnight because it’s still there.
“I can’t comment on (if Chara is being targeted by officials),” he continued. “People make mistakes. (The refs) made some mistakes. We made some mistakes.”
The Bruins improved/fell to [38-20-9] and are next in action on Friday when they travel to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders.
Buffalo’s record went to [33-26-8] as they moved up one slot to 7th in the Eastern Conference standings. They’re next at Toronto on Saturday. Miller finished with 26 saves, while Thomas was peppered for 41 saves on 45 shots. For the Bruins, Chara finished with two points, while Boyes, Vanek, and Ennis each had a goal and an assist for Buffalo.