BUFFALO – It took the Boston Bruins over two-and-a-half periods Sunday to find the back of the net, but the line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton scored twice in the third period to provide all the offense necessary.
Meanwhile, Anton Khudobin made 26 saves for his first shutout of the season and the second of his career.
With 7:06 to play in regulation, Krejci broke a scoreless tie as the Bruins earned a 2-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Horton added the second goal 3:10 later to seal the victory and put the Bruins within one point of the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Northeast Division.
The Bruins' offense, which has now been held to three or less goals in seven of their past eight games, stuck to their game plan and didn't press -- even though their chances weren't being converted.
"We had to stay focused because even after two periods at 0-0, the way things have gone, you never know. We could've had a bad bounce go our way and it would have been in our net," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "But it was about staying positive and sticking with the game plan and doing the right things. But every period we talked about getting a little better in certain areas and guys answered well."
On the first goal, Horton took two shots on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, and Krejci was able to knock home the second rebound from the top of the goal crease.
"You try to go to the dirty areas, especially when the pucks aren't going in the net. Not just me, but everybody," Krejci said.
Boston then quickly extended its lead to two goals as Horton knocked in a cross-ice feed from Krejci through Miller and Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera at 15:44.
Sekera, who was on the ice for both Bruins goals said he did not know Horton was standing next to him at the top of the crease.
"I did not see him coming, to be honest," Sekera said. "I was focusing on the guy they dropped the pass to and I was yelling, ‘Just take it to the guy high,' and as soon as I stopped talking, the pass came right through my feet and it was in."
Khudobin kept the Bruins in the game early on and throughout the game to earn the shutout. He stoned Tyler Ennis midway through the first period, making a right pad save as Ennis tried to stickhandle around him alone.
"To start off, [Khudobin] made some big saves early in the first period and that kind of kept momentum on our side," Lucic said. "They weren't able to build off anything off of that, so as they game went on, we just felt like the way we were playing defensively, it started turning into more offensive chances."
The Lucic-Krejci-Horton line recorded Boston's only goal in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Lucic said that these two games are something they can build on moving forward.
"I thought our line had a pretty good game yesterday in Philadelphia and we wanted to keep it going in this game here today," Lucic said. "It felt like as a line, we were able to put two pretty good games together and hopefully we can keep on building through what we've done."
While Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston was generally happy with his team's performance, he understands that Buffalo has a long way to go in terms of being able to finish out games, especially against a team like Boston.
"They won the Stanley Cup two years ago. They're at the top of the League this year and that's what good teams do -- they're patient and they're confident. They went into the third period with that in mind and we still have to get there," Rolston said.
Miller reached a milestone when the puck dropped for the opening faceoff as he tied Dominik Hasek's franchise record of 491 games played with the Sabres. Miller is 263-162-1-53 with 28 shutouts in his career. He made 29 saves in the loss.
The Bruins entered the contest looking to end a 4-5-1 skid over their past 10 games.
"We've been losing a lot of games lately, so we know we're not going to be winning hockey games by four-plus goals, so we have to grind it out," Krejci said. "Tonight it was a pretty good game, the start of something good here."
The Sabres are 3-1-2 in their past six home games, but are now 0-2-2 in their past four overall. Buffalo now trails the New York Rangers by three points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have two games in hand. Sitting in 13th place, however, the Sabres are also four points from being in dead last.
"I think tonight is a perfect example of why we are where we are in the standings, and why they are where they are in the standings," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "They find ways to win those games, and we've been finding ways to lose them. We were the team to blink first, and it cost us the game."
The Sabres played without both forward Ville Leino and leading scorer Thomas Vanek. Leino did not partake in the pregame skate and the team announced after warmups that he is day-to-day with an upper-body muscle strain. Vanek missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury.
|Matt Bartkowski Cross checking against Kevin Porter|
|Zdeno Chara Cross checking against Steve Ott|
|Steve Ott Diving against Zdeno Chara|
|Christian Ehrhoff Holding against Tyler Seguin|
|Tyler Seguin Diving against Christian Ehrhoff|
|Nathan Horton Too many men/ice - bench|
|Nathan Horton Hooking against Cody Hodgson|
|Nathan Horton Slashing against Jochen Hecht|