BUFFALO - There was reason to be skeptical about the Bruins' ability to shut things down on Friday night. Without injured blue liners Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy, and captain Zdeno Chara playing just four days after a procedure to quell a jaw infection, Boston's defense corps was entering its contest against the Buffalo Sabres a bit depleted.
Add in the fact that most of the Black & Gold had not touched the ice during the three-day Christmas break and it was easy to think that Boston might struggle against Buffalo's Jack Eichel-led offensive attack.
The Bruins, however, had no such trouble.
Boston's back end was stellar and Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves for his 50th career shutout as the Bruins picked up a 3-0 victory at KeyBank Center.
"That's why we have such good depth on our team," said Halak. "If guys are out of the lineup, guys step in and do the job. I thought for the most part, we kept it simple in our zone. When we had a chance, we broke the puck out really well through the neutral zone.
"We didn't try to do anything cute at the blue line…we did a lot of good things tonight. We just need to keep building on it and keep playing that way."
Video: BOS@BUF: Halak makes 26 saves for 50th NHL shutout
As has been the case for the past few seasons when injuries pile up, the Bruins adopted a next-man-up approach. Despite being down two of their top-four defensemen, the Black & Gold were not interested in making any excuses.
"Real impressed [with the effort]," said Patrice Bergeron, who notched his third consecutive two-goal game. "It's always about the next man up, team defense. That's what we always talked about. I thought it was a perfect example.
"Kept everything - or most of it - to the outside. Obviously Jaro made some huge saves in the first. We had some good layers and we played well."
It was Halak who helped the Bruins stay afloat in the early going as they found their bearings following the holiday hiatus. The netminder turned away 11 shots in the opening frame, none, perhaps, more important than his slick glove stop on former teammate Marcus Johansson's wrister from the slot midway through the first.
"In the morning I just tried to get my timing back," Halak said of being sharp despite not having skated since Monday. "The first couple drills [of pregame skate] was tough. It's always tough after three days of not doing anything and playing a game. Just tried to get my timing in warmups and tried to keep it simple. Didn't try to be a superhero out there, just tried to do my job."
Halak certainly did that as he secured his league-leading third shutout of the season and the 50th of his career, becoming just the 31st goalie in NHL history to reach that milestone.
"It's special. But it's a team win right now," said Halak. "We needed points and we got the points. It wouldn't have mattered if it was 3-2 or 3-1, whatever. It makes it more special when it's a shutout, but it's a team game and we got the win."
Video: Halak Shuts Out Buffalo Sabres 3-0 on Friday
Bergeron, Top Line Dominate
Halak got plenty of help from Boston's top trio of Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, who connected for the Bruins' first two goals. Bergeron picked up his first of the night with 22 seconds to play in the opening period, when he whacked home a Pastrnak feed from his familiar bumper spot just seven seconds into a power play.
"At times, the puck is going in, you get some puck luck," said Bergeron. "Other times, it doesn't. To me, it's always about the details, making sure I play the right way. That's where we're at as a line. If the puck is not going in, you want to contribute and make sure you play the right way.
"When it does, you want to keep doing that, defensively play well, shut down whoever you're playing against and win that matchup…you take if it's going well and you try to keep working on it."
Video: BOS@BUF: Pastrnak feeds Bergeron for PPG
Bergeron's second goal also came late in a period, as he struck for his 17th of the season with 1:34 to go in the second. Pastrnak started off the sequence by denying a clearing attempt along the boards, setting in motion some spectacular puck movement.
After the puck squirted out to Bergeron in the slot, the center immediately dished it back to Pastrnak who left a pass for Marchand as the winger surged back into the zone. Marchand then sold a shot, before sliding a feed across the slot to Bergeron, who tapped it into an empty net for a 2-0 Bruins lead.
"It's about moving our feet," said Bergeron, who also rang one off the post earlier in the second. "That's how we created that space is by reading each other well and knowing where we're at, but also by moving our feet and being good on the forecheck and getting the puck back and creating the offense."
Bergeron is just the fifth player in Bruins history to notch two goals in three consecutive games and the first since Cam Neely in 1988-89.
"The one tonight, the bumper play, that's his shot," said Cassidy. "He didn't get all of it but because of his release he'll score goals like that because the goalie doesn't have time to get in position. Second one, great play by Marchy. Rung one off the post, great play by Pasta. His line mates are getting him pucks. But give him credit for some of the other looks, finding the open ice.
"Right now, it's going in for him. There was a stretch about a month ago it seemed like he couldn't buy a goal. Was in great spots, goalies were making saves, but it was off the net or not quite high enough, off the post. Sometimes if you get enough volume from good spots, eventually they're gonna go in."
Video: BOS@BUF: Bergeron nets second goal
Carlo Steps Up
With McAvoy and Krug sidelined, Brandon Carlo got the call to skate alongside Chara on Boston's top pairing. It's a role the 23-year-old is quite familiar with, having played with Chara for his entire rookie season in 2016-17.
And on Friday night, Carlo reprised that role about as well as possible, leading the team with five shots on goal, three blocked shots, and 26:22 of ice time. He was rewarded with an empty-netter - his fourth goal of the season - with 1:54 remaining.
"I thought Brandon Carlo had his best game of the year," said Cassidy. "Brandon really enjoys the shutdown role. When he plays with Krug, it's a little different animal…[With Zee], there's two true shutdown guys. You lose a little bit of the puck-moving ability when those two guys are together. But I thought Brandon was actually moving the puck well and making the plays he was supposed to. Good for him.
"More jump, more assertiveness, eating pucks. Real good stuff from him. An opportunity for him to say, 'You know what? I'm the top guy on the right side. I'm gonna grab a hold of it.' And that's the kind of competition we talk about when Charlie comes back, to have the mentality, 'Hey, I'm gonna play more minutes than him some nights.'"
Video: Cassidy Speaks To Media After 3-0 Win Over Sabres