BUFFALO - The Bruins knew they needed a spark. Heading into South Bend for Tuesday's Winter Classic as losers of three straight games would not have been a desirable position. And for a time on Saturday night, it appeared that that just might be the case.
Fortunately for Boston, eventually that spark came.
Jake DeBrusk tied the game with a power-play goal late in the third, setting the scene for Sean Kuraly to dig up some of his overtime magic. Kuraly notched the winner with 1:16 to play in the extra session to secure Boston's 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres and send the Black & Gold to Notre Dame on the right note.
"Listen, you can't go too long without wins, otherwise the talk starts, the squeezing the sticks starts and people get nervous," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team snapped a brief two-game skid and notched their first win of the season after trailing entering the third period.
"We needed it a lot. We wanted to enjoy these two days. Let's face it, for a lot of guys it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go up to South Bend. I know some guys have played in the Classic before.
"You don't wanna go there pouting, you want to go there enjoying. Your family's there. I think it will lighten the mood a little bit."
Video: DeBrusk, Kuraly lead Bruins to 3-2 overtime win
The Bruins' disposition changed drastically in the closing minutes of the third when DeBrusk knotted the game at 2 with a textbook tip of Torey Krug's wrister on the power play. The winger stationed himself at the top of the crease and redirected the shot by Carter Hutton for his 11th of the season with just 2:29 remaining in regulation.
"I think we made eye contact kind of when he was rolling up and he tried to hit me earlier when he was down low and kind of fanned on it," DeBrusk said of Krug. "I gave it right back to him. Once he was coming up, as a net-front guy you're looking for one-timers, trying to get the goalie's eyes. [Krug] looked right at me, so I knew it was coming. Perfect shot for me to tip. Obviously that was a big sigh of relief to see that go in."
The goal gave the Bruins plenty of momentum heading into the extra session. And that momentum continued when Boston killed off a David Krejci interference penalty in the opening minute of OT.
Video: BOS@BUF: DeBrusk redirects Krug's shot on power play
Just over a minute after the Bruins made the kill, Kuraly rekindled some of his overtime heroics with a stellar individual effort. The 25-year-old took a Matt Grzelcyk feed just inside the Boston blue liner and charged through the neutral zone, before firing a shot on Hutton through a screen.
"I saw it was a forward I was coming down on and then I just wanted to get it on net really," said Kuraly, who was on the ice with Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller. "Once I got it on net, I didn't really expect it to come out and it did. Really I just tried to get something on it. I got more on it than I really thought."
Hutton let the rebound trickle out into the slot and Kuraly was there to follow his shot and tap home a backhander for the winner.
"I just wanted to get there first. I was just going on intuition," said Kuraly, whose tally was his third of the season. "We talked in between periods that we've got to get to the net a little bit more. Really my mindset was the first one's probably not gonna go in. Just gonna get there and see what happens. Banked on the forward not playing as well as the defenseman would."
It was not, however, the most memorable overtime goal of Kuraly's young career. That came in Game 5 of the Bruins' first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series with the Ottawa Senators during his rookie season in 2017. Kuraly picked up his first career goal earlier in that game, before delivering the winner in double overtime to send the series back to Boston for Game 6.
"He secretly has some hands sometimes and he likes to clutch it up, especially in overtime….he's been known to do that," said DeBrusk."It's kind of funny. I think he was trying to change and Butch told him to stay and he went and scored. He made a nice play. Obviously very happy for him."
Video: BOS@BUF: Kuraly pokes home OT winner for Bruins
It is not often that Cassidy turns to his bottom six for overtime minutes, but he opted to utilize Kuraly's speed in what he believed was a favorable 3-on-3 situation.
"He's got speed. He can skate with anybody, so in 3-on-3 in open ice, if someone gets separation…Sean can be a good overtime guy," said Cassidy. "He does keep it simple, goes to the net. In overtime, you don't have to make a lot of tic-tac-toe plays. It's more one good pass and all of a sudden you've got some ice. For him in that case, it's just pitch behind him and go."
Cassidy also employed Kuraly in another unfamiliar position on Saturday night, giving him several shifts as the Bruins' top-line left wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Overall, Kuraly landed four shots on goal to go along with two hits in 15:43 of ice time.
"He was tremendous tonight," said Bergeron, who also saw Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and Joakim Nordstrom spend time on his left wing with Brad Marchand sidelined by an upper-body ailment. "He was playing a lot of big minutes for us and making some great plays. Obviously that game-winner was a great effort all-around from him. Obviously we're missing March and we all know that, but credit to Sean for stepping up his game big-time tonight."
Video: BOS@BUF: Acciari sweeps puck home off turnover