Nothing was different on Tuesday night. They knew that they were going to be facing a battle, despite the fact that the Buffalo Sabres’ position in the standings might have suggested otherwise. They knew that Tuesday’s game, like all of the others, would prove crucial because at this point in the season — no matter the opponent — every game, and every point, is crucial.
“It’s a tough one to lose, especially when Ottawa won today and the teams behind us are chasing us,” said forward Loui Eriksson following a 2-1 shootout loss to the Sabres. “Every point is huge, and that’s a tough one to lose.
“I thought we had a lot of chances today to score more goals and win the game. We need to find ways to score those goals, too. We create a lot of chances, but when we get that chance, we have to really focus to put it in, too. That cost us the game. I thought we were the much better team today, and we just need to get better on that.”
After reeling off five straight wins to begin the month of March, the Bruins have now lost two straight, one in regulation and one in a shootout. They now sit four points ahead of the Senators — who have a game in hand — two nights before the two teams will face off in Ottawa.
Boston had chances on Tuesday night — plenty of them. The net-front traffic was there. The finish, which seems to have come and gone in spurts this season, was not. Boston outshot Buffalo 14-3 in the first period and 12-7 in the second and finished the game with a 45-24 shot advantage.
“I think those are the parts that always worry you — as the game goes on, you’ve got full control, you’ve got a 1-0 lead, and you just can’t seem to get that second goal,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “Those are the dangerous situations to be in. When a team hangs around that long, eventually, they’re going to get a break somewhere, and they did.
“They finally tied the game up, and as much as we tried, we just couldn’t muster up a second goal. That’s our own fault. We had chances, we had shots, and if we’re not going to find ways to bury goals, then you’ve got to look at yourselves in those kinds of situations.”
On Tuesday night, the start was not a problem for the Bruins, marking a vast and much-needed an improvement over the way their most recent game started on Sunday night against Washington, when they did their best to survive a first-period onslaught from the Capitals. This time around, Boston limited Buffalo’s chances and generated plenty of their own.
With about 10 minutes gone in the frame, it was Eriksson who put the Bruins on the board. Coming off a faceoff, Adam McQuaid threw the puck off the end boards, and it deflected back out, hit the side of the net and landed right on Eriksson’s stick. Eriksson tapped it in behind Anders Lindback to give Boston the 1-0 lead.
“We just won the draw, and Quaider was trying to put it on net, and it hit the boards,” Eriksson said. “Good bounce for me, and the goalie came out there a little bit, and there was an open net for me, so it was kind of easy to put it in.”
The second period proved similar to the first, except Boston was unable to convert on its chances. Like in the first, the B’s spent most of the period hemming the Sabres in their own end, but they could not evade Lindback, who would finish the game with a whopping 44 saves on 45 shots.
“I think we have to make it harder on him,” said forward Patrice Bergeron. “We were doing a good job of [putting] pucks on net, but that’s still not good enough. Any goalie in this league, if they see it, most likely, they’re going to stop it, so he’s no different. It’s about making it hard on them, and we didn’t do that.”
Then, in the third period, the Sabres fought back. It took them just 1 minute and 23 seconds into the frame to knot the score. In the waning seconds of a power play, assessed to Carl Soderberg with 2.3 seconds remaining in the second, Rasmus Ristolainen wound up for a slapshot in the high slot, and it deflected off Matt Bartkowski and past Svedberg.
So with about 18 1/2 minutes left to play, it was a new game, and once again, it would require extra time to decide the outcome.
“We’ve told ourselves that we needed to find a way to get that second goal, or even the third one,” Bergeron said. “We needed to find a way to give ourselves a cushion, and we didn’t do that, and it’s pretty easy when you don’t have that killer instinct for other teams to get back.
“It’s just one shot away, and that’s what they did. We definitely had most of the play, but that being said, it’s about results.”
In overtime, the Bruins had seven chances to Buffalo’s three, but all of them would prove fruitless. Then, in the shootout, Tyler Ennis — Buffalo’s first shooter — would barely put the puck in the net, squeezing it in and off the front crossbar for the winning score. That, for the Sabres, was all it would take.
“We knew how important the game was, and again, we had our chances,” McQuaid said. “We need to make sure that we are taking advantage of them. We were having good puck possession, and at times, we weren’t taking the opportunities to make plays when we had them. They kind of hung around there and got back in the game, and that’s to our own doing.
“We have so many games in such a short period of time right now that we have to try and focus on the positive things and obviously correct in certain areas, but there were some chances that were there, and we’ve just got to make sure that we are bearing down on them.”
Svedberg, making his first start since a March 8 victory over Detroit, proved solid in net. He came up with timely saves, particularly in the third period, when he had to fend off parts of two Sabres power plays. In the end, though, neither he nor the B’s were rewarded with a victory.
“I mean, it’s frustrating,” Svedberg said. “I thought we had more chances today, but that’s life. We had a chance to win in overtime and the shootout, but unfortunately, we didn’t, and we got one point. But we should have had two, I think.
“They got two points, and we got one. So that’s the way it is.”
There is no need for the Bruins to panic — they haven’t panicked all year, no matter how fortuitous or how dire the circumstances. The situation is the same as it has been for much of the year: There is still just one final playoff spot, and there are a handful of teams fighting the Bruins for it.
“Every game is going to be a fight,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “Like I said, we’ve been saying that for the last few weeks. We know where we’re at. All these teams are fighting for the same spot as we are, so we know it’s going to be crucial for us to get points and get wins.”
And though there isn’t any panic, there is a feeling that there must be an uptick in urgency as the Bruins prepare to face off against Ottawa on Thursday night. But this group has always maintained that it will never get to high when things are going well, and it will never get too low when things go awry. That is no different now, even with a mere 12 games remaining on the schedule.
“I think it’s a fine balance there that this group is pretty good at finding,” McQuaid said. “Even when we had a string of winning games, we kept everything in the right mindset, and we didn’t look past each game — we continued to look to improve in areas. We move on from game to game and get ready for the next opponent, and obviously, the next game is going to be a big one for us.
“We are going to have to be prepared, playing against a team that is right there with us and that is playing extremely good hockey right now.”