Thanksgiving eve. Downtown Buffalo, New York. You could cut the tension with a knife. The big, bad Boston Bruins are in town to play the Buffalo Sabres with eyes on winning their 10th game in a row. This is supposed to be the game where the Sabres exact some form of revenge on Milan Lucic for his steamrolling of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller November 12th, which left Miller with a concussion. It feels like a mid-April playoff tilt, with the winner getting some sort of bragging rights. Whether it’s on the scoreboard or with the fists, Sabres fans walking into the First Niagara Center Wednesday night expected their team to respond in one form or another. In fact, some wanted a bloodbath.
What the Sabres really needed was the two points.
The home team came out flying with several scoring chances and a physical game that, as much as they claim they were, I doubt the Bruins were ready for. The fans got their money’s worth in the first period alone, with the festivities starting only 83 seconds in. The Bruins made a line change with a faceoff in their own zone, and Bruins coach Claude Julien sent Lucic over the boards, to the loudest jeers this writer has heard in a very long time. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff instantly countered with a line of Nathan Gerbe, Corey Tropp and Paul Gaustad, who obviously was foaming at the mouth to get his date with the devil. As soon as the puck was dropped, Gaustad and Lucic ripped off their respective helmets and gloves and the fun began. The scorecard read Lucic 6, Gaustad 4, but “Goose” deserved credit for doing what had to be done and sending a message that his goaltenders are not, contrary to popular belief, “fair game”.
By this point, the crowd was going bonkers.
Nathan Gerbe made his diminutive presence felt throughout the first period with several jarring body checks, including an open ice beauty where he lit up the Bruins’ Dennis Seidenberg. In fact, Gerbe was a one-man wrecking crew for Buffalo through the first twenty minutes, hitting everything in a white uniform.
The Sabres turned early momentum into paydirt when, at the 11:56 mark of the period on a power play, Christian Ehrhoff rifled a slap shot past a stretched out Tim Thomas. Assists went to Drew Stafford and Marc-Andre Gragnani, with a third assist going to the beserk sold out Buffalo crowd. Ehrhoff, who had only one goal coming into Wednesday, quickly raised his arms skyward and looked towards the heavens as if to say “Finally!”.
Less than four minutes later, a scrum behind the Bruins net quickly turned into an all-out brawl. The exclamation point on the pre-Thanksgiving well wishes was a spirited bout between 6’9″ Bruins rearguard Zdeno Chara and Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr. Regehr held his own with the hulking Chara for about a minute, before being slammed to the ice by the obviously agitated Bruins’ defenseman, who clearly had enough by that point. The Bruins Adam Mcquaid took a double-roughing penalty on the play and the Sabres ended up with a man advantage.
Twenty-three seconds later, Thomas Vanek made the Bruins pay once again, scoring his 12th of the season, with the lone assist going to his linemate Jason Pominville. Vanek was all alone to Thomas’ right, and made the all-star goaltender look ordinary with a sick wrist shot that Thomas didn’t have a chance on.
The Sabres went to the dressing room with a 2-0 lead, but you can bet Julien lit his charges up behind closed doors, as the Bruins came out in the second period with a plan to clearly set the tone. Second year man Tyler Seguin scored just over three minutes into the period, on yet another power play, to cut the lead in half. The momentum shift was clearly underway, until a Sabres rookie making his NHL debut put Buffalo up 3-1. 22-year old TJ Brennan, called up from Rochester after defenseman Tyler Myers was shelved for up to 6 weeks with a broken wrist, scored his first NHL goal off a juicy Tim Thomas rebound. Brennan displayed his smooth skating stride, not unlike former Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell, and showed a calm demeanor and willingness to compete throughout the game.
The Bruins weren’t giving up at that point, though, as feisty forward Brad Marchand pulled the B’s to within one with a beauty of a wrist shot, beating Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth. The teams went to the dressing room with the Sabres up 3-2, and a 25-22 Bruins advantage in shots.
Chara’s third goal of the year 3:35 into the 3rd period deadlocked the game at 3-3, and the Sabres seemed a bit tentative for most of the period, despite generating a few point blank scoring chances. Neither team could solve the solid goaltending of Enroth and Thomas. The Sabres had a glorious opportunity to win the game late in the 3rd, when Bruins center David Krejci went to the penalty box with just over a minute left in regulation time. Despite some heavy zone time, and plenty of shots on (and over the) goal, the Sabres couldn’t capitalize.
Heading to overtime with the man advantage, when it becomes a 4-on-3, should’ve been just what the doctor ordered for a Buffalo team desperate to win at home. Again, though, the team couldn’t put anything by a stellar Thomas. The tenacious Bruins had a glorious chance to win it all with about two minutes left in the overtime period, when Krejci had Enroth dead to rights alone in front of the Buffalo net, but the puck jumped over his stick.
The teams were headed for a shootout, which was only fitting given how even and tough they played each other throughout the game. It took five rounds of shooters before anyone could solve the stalemate. The fifth Bruins shooter, Benoit Pouliot, drove in on Enroth and beat him with a quick wrist shot high on the goaltender’s glove side to give the Bruins a come-from-behind 4-3 victory.
For a game with that much hype, it certainly lived up to it’s billing, and most of these types of games rarely do. A quarter of the way into the season, we had the game of the year thus far. The Sabres showed the hockey world, all of whom were watching, that they are indeed tough enough to skate with a much bigger team, that they will answer the bell when they have to, and that they are not afraid to play it rough and tumble. They also showed the people of Buffalo that they are, in fact, a team that cares for each other.
What they didn’t get, however, was the two points. But they did receive one point for taking the game into the extra sessions, and you know what? I’m okay with that, because along with that point, they made a point and gained respect from 29 other NHL teams.
And that will go a lot further in the long run.
- Brennan scored in his NHL debut, the first Sabre to accomplish that feat since Tyler Ennis did on November 14th, 2009 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
- Marc-Andre Gragnani‘s 2 assists gave the rookie defenseman his first regular season multi-point game in the NHL.
- Sabres winger Jochen Hecht made his season debut after missing the first quarter of the season with a concussion, while winger Patrick Kaleta was held out due to a minor lower-body injury.
- Sabres winger Brad Boyes will be out long-term with what coach Lindy Ruff called a lower-body injury.
- The Sabres dropped their first game of the year when they were leading after two periods, going 9-0 before tonight’s game.
- Gerbe was credited with 8 hits on the night.
- Ehrhoff’s goal was his first in 15 games, as evidenced by his gesture towards the heavens.
- Vanek and team captain Pominville have combined on a league-high 20 goals so far this season.
- Buffalo drops to 5-6-1 at home, while owning a 7-2-0 road record, which ties them with the San Jose Sharks for the league lead.
- Buffalo faces off against cellar-dwellar Columbus Blue Jackets this Friday on the road.
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Topics: Adam Mcquaid, Benoit Pouliot, Boston Bruins, Brad Boyes, Brad Marchand, Buffalo Sabres, Claude Julien, Corey Tropp, David Jrejci, David Krejci, Jason Pominville, Jhonas Enroth, Lindy Ruff, Marc-andre Gragnani, Milan Lucic, Nathan Gerbe, Patrick Kaleta, Paul Gaustad, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Sabres/bruins Rematch, Thomas Vanek, Tim Thomas, Tj Brennan, Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara