The Boston Bruins advanced to the eastern Conference Semifinals by ousting the favored Buffalo Sabres with a 4-2 victory Monday in Game 6 at TD Garden, a victory that gave Boston the best-of-7 series by a four-games-to-two margin.
The Bruins are still waiting to see whom they will play in Round 2. If Washington wins Wednesday's Game 7 against Montreal, the Bruins will open the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, defending Stanley Cup champions. If the Canadiens pull the upset, Boston will host seventh-seeded Philadelphia, which upset New Jersey in the first round.
Boston won both Monday's game and this series because they were the better team in special-teams play.
Monday, Boston scored a pair of power-play goals to open the game with a 2-0 lead Buffalo could never fully erase, then killed off each of Buffalo's three power-play chances in the game. For the series, Boston had six power-play goals and did not allow Buffalo a man-advantage tally in 22 attempts in the series.
"I really thought our special teams played well in this series," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said.
A perfect 22-for-22 on the PK is quite impressive, especially when both sides knew they would struggle for offense in this series.
"We take pride in our PK," said Chara, the most-used penalty killer both last night and in the series. "We are obviously aggressive, but at same time well-positioned. The people we have on the ice (on the penalty kill), those are the workers and we always try to out-work the opposite power play."
Boston did that to perfection Monday night and it proved to be the difference in the game as Buffalo battled back from the two power-play goals -- by David Krejci and Mark Recchi -- but could never get closer than one goal at any point in the game.
The fact that rookie goalie Tuukka Rask continued to play like a seasoned vet, making 27 saves, also helped the Bruin cause.
But there was no denying that special teams was the dividing line between two teams that were unbelievably even throughout the series.
"If you look at it, they scored two power-play goals (tonight) and we didn't get any," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "They definitely had the edge in the series and it made the difference. Our penalty kill had been good all year, but we ended up giving up (six) goals and it hurt us."
Boston drew first blood Monday night on the game's first power play. With Steve Montador in the box for interference, Krejci drifted into the middle of Buffalo's penalty-killing box and redirected a pass from Recchi just inside the far post, a play that left Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller helpless.
"That first one was a heck of a tip," said Miller, who made 28 saves.
But Krejci and Recchi were just getting warmed up.
The two forwards switched roles on the next power-play goal, a 4-on-3 gem with 61 seconds gone in the middle period. This time, Krejci held the puck at the point until he found Recchi parked to the left of Miller. A quick snap pass froze Miller and allowed Recchi to slot a one-timer home.
"I got a little locked up on trying to hold my ice in case (Krejci) shot, which obviously didn't happen," Miller said.
Krejci had one more trick up his sleeve on this night, revealing it after Patrick Kaleta had cut the lead to 2-1 with his first-ever playoff goal at the 6:34 mark of the second period. The game stayed tied for the next 21 minutes before Krejci struck for his second of the night, converting a nice pass from Milan Lucic from behind the net after forcing a turnover by Tyler Meyers.
That goal, by the way, came just 12 seconds after Buffalo's Adam Mair had finished serving a double-minor for high-sticking.
Buffalo again cut the lead to one goal on a sweet shot from rookie Nathan Gerbe, who intercepted a blind pass from Boston's Michael Ryder and beat Rask to make it 3-2 with 12:20 left in the contest.
All that did, though, was set the stage for Miroslav Satan, a former star with the Sabres, to get the game-winner with 5:11 left in the contest.
Satan tapped a sweet pass from Dennis Wideman past Miller at the far post for his second game-winner in as many games here at Boston Garden and make a late goal from a brave Thomas Vanek almost meaningless for Buffalo.
While Boston's ability to remain focused despite so many setbacks and distractions in this series played a major role, there is no denying that it was the Bruins' ability to capitalize on power-play opportunities -- both Monday night and throughout the series – that frustrated the Sabres and made the difference.
After all, Buffalo outscored Boston, 15-10, during non-special-teams' play.
"First of all, killing all those penalties allowed us to stay in the game," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "The power play being better than it had been during the regular season allowed us to get back into games as far as tying it up and even winning it at times.
"Those special teams were good, there's no doubt about it. We're happy with both the PK and PP. As I mentioned earlier, you need everybody in every situation going well if you are going to keep moving forward here."
Monday night, Boston followed that formula to a T to send Buffalo home for the summer and advance itself into the second round.
Shift of the night: Shortly after Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta scored the first playoff goal of his NHL career to make the score 2-1 in Boston’s favor, the Bruins had to defuse another buzzing shift by the visitors. To survive it, Milan Lucic had to throw himself to the ice to block a Steve Montador shot before Dennis Wideman blocked a second shot from Montador. Finally, Lucic cleared and Boston was able to roll off three straight shifts in Buffalo’s end to restore order.
1 - 0 BOS
2 - 0 BOS
2 - 1 BOS
3 - 1 BOS
3 - 2 BOS
4 - 2 BOS
4 - 3 BOS
Power Play Stats
Power Play %
% on Road
% at Home
Delaying Game-Puck over glass
Too many men/ice - bench
Hi stick - double minor