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B's Look to Tame Buffalo

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
BOSTON -- There will be plenty of things for the Bruins (26-13-7) to worry about when the Buffalo Sabres (20-20-5) come a calling on Thursday night in TD Garden. Goalie Ryan Miller (18 wins) and left wing Thomas Vanek (17 goals) are chief among those issues.

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, right, stops a scoring attempt by Buffalo Sabres winger Drew Stafford during overtime of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011. Buffalo won 7-6 in a shoot-out. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Not to mention that the B's have a 2-1-1 record versus the Sabres and the last time the two clubs tangled, Buffalo dropped a touchdown on the Bruins during the B's 7-6 overtime loss to Buffalo on January 1.

But nobody would blame fans from around the "Hub of Hockey" if they were taking at least a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard while watching the Black & Gold take on their blue and gold clad brethren from Western New York.

As of this morning, the Northeast Division leading Bruins are tied with the Southeast Division leading Lightning (who play the Thrashers tonight) with 59 points and a share of home-ice advantage in this springs’ playoffs. But only six points separate eighth place Atlanta (53 points) from their counterparts in Tampa Bay and Boston. The Canadiens, Rangers, Capitals and Penguins (who stand second in the Atlantic with 62 points) are the teams in between.

Beyond that, the Canadiens are only three points (56) behind Boston in the race for the top spot in the Northeast.

Montreal is the only club in the top eight spots of the Eastern Conference that doesn’t play tonight. But with the other seven teams (eight including the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes) all skating tonight, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could look very different in the morning. 

But thanks in part to a sweep of their home and home series with Carolina on Monday and Tuesday, the B's enter Thursday 6-2-2 in their last 10 contests, just a slice smoother than the 6-3-1 record held by the Sabres in their last 10 games.

Obviously, the Bruins were excited with their work on Monday when they dropped their own 7-0 football score on Carolina, but until the third period on Tuesday, Boston Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien wasn't necessarily thrilled with his club's effort.

"I thought we started the game really well -- that the first ten minutes was good, and then, the next ten, they kind of took over," said Julien, postgame.

"I thought we got ourselves in real trouble in the second period when, I think, the first eleven minutes we killed six of them [on the penalty kill] and really gave them the momentum and the control of the game and then they just started coming hard at us.

"That was a tough period for us," he said.

But during the third stanza, the B's showed their usual resiliency.

"We’re in a situation there to...control our destiny," said Julien of the tied score after two in Carolina's RBC Center. "I thought the third period was a little better.

"It got us back into the lead there and at the same time our guys kept plugging away," he added. "You know, I think the confidence is there and I know in the third period we’ve been a good team.

"I think, again, the fact that we were tied and it was twenty minutes that was going to decide the game, our guys felt confident they could go out there and be a better team."

Milan Lucic notched the game-winner at 11:49.

"No matter what the score is, we've always been able to play our game in the third," said Lucic to NESN's camera's postgame on Tuesday.

"We came back in the second intermission and talked about...getting pucks back in deep and playing the puck possession game down low.

"That's where we were creating most of our chances and that's what we did in the third and I think that's why we gave ourselves a good chance to win.

"That's why we won," he added.

Tim Thomas' 43 saves certainly helped, too. But, in terms of Thursday night's match-up, it was the poise that the Bruins showed in matching up with a very desperate Carolina club (who are still in the playoff hunt with 50 points) that might bode best for the B's against Buffalo.

"They were really pushing hard. I mean they looked like a team that was battling for a playoff spot," Julien said to Naoko Funayama on Tuesday night.

"But it was our job to push them down and not let them up.  We had an opportunity with these back-to-back games [Monday and Tuesday] to finish it off and we did some damage to their playoff hopes.

"They pushed really hard...for the majority of the night, but in the long run we found a way to win," he said.

Bruins fans hope that the Black & Gold can do the same thing tonight.
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