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Late, Costly Mistakes Leave Bruins with 6-3 Home Loss to Sabres

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — During the stretch of 16 games that carried the Bruins into the holiday break — a stretch during which they posted an 11-2-3 record — they learned a simple lesson: When they play with structure, and when they stick to the gameplan, good things happen.

When they don’t do that, it all falls apart.

“I think lately, we’ve been maybe a little comfortable, and we have to get back to playing the way we did when we were playing well,” said forward Brad Marchand following a 6-3 home loss to Buffalo on Saturday night. “We’re not as physical, we’re not on the forecheck as hard, we’re not shutting teams down as well as we did before. We’re giving them a little too much room, too much space, too many opportunities, and we’re just not playing as good of hockey as we can.

“We have to realize that we’re only good when we work hard and when we play within the system, and when we deviate away from that, then teams are able to beat us like they did tonight.”

The final score is not completely indicative of the course of Saturday’s game. The Bruins were in control — fully in control — until the 50th minute of play.

They took a 3-1 lead with seven minutes remaining, and then, they seemed to let up. They seemed to sit back. And as they have learned in the past, there is no team in the NHL that will fail to capitalize when that happens.

On Saturday night, they learned that lesson the hard way, again.

“That was our team not respecting, I guess, the game of hockey,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “When you take a lead like that and you make some of those plays that we made, you’ve got yourselves to blame.”

In the final 10 minutes, there were costly mistakes — namely, turnovers in the defensive zone. There were plays that every single player in the lineup would have liked to have back — one pass, one save.

“You’re up a couple goals at home, you want to find a way to lock it down, but the only thing we can do is learn from this and make sure we adjust next time we’re in the same situation so we can win that game,” said goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who made 23 saves on 27 shots. “But once again, I just want to be there for the team when they need me and maybe get another save, and at least we get to overtime and we win it there — but that’s the way it is sometimes.

“You’ve just got to go through it and come back strong.”

After a scoreless first period, the Sabres struck first about five minutes into the second. A Bruins turnover at the defensive blueline led to a perfect opportunity for Evander Kane, and he capitalized.

At the time, that goal seemed to awaken the B’s. They responded, and quickly.

Thirty-six seconds after Kane’s goal, Matt Beleskey, screening in front, deflected a Kevan Miller shot past Sabres goalie Chad Johnson to tie the game at 1. One minute and 16 seconds after that, Marchand, streaking down the left wing, faked the shot then passed to Bergeron on the right side of the crease, and Bergeron elevated the puck to beat Johnson five-hole.

The Bruins took the 2-1 lead into the third, and David Krejci added to it seven minutes into that frame.

Then, with 10 minutes left in the game, it fell apart.

Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly got the ball rolling after the puck deflected behind the Boston net and right to his tape. He found the hole between Gustavsson and the near post to pull the Sabres within one. Thirty-nine seconds later, North Chelmsford native Jack Eichel tied the game, taking advantage of a bad turnover by the B’s in offensive zone and walking it in before firing.

The puck deflected off a skate in front and into the net.

“It’s definitely unacceptable, going into the third with a lead and then extending it and just stop playing the way we want to play — stop playing hockey,” Bergeron said. “Just kind of very careless, and [we] tried being cute, and we got the result that we deserved, I guess.”

Three minutes and 24 seconds after the tying goal, Buffalo took the lead when Jamie McGinn pounced on a loose puck Gustavsson left in the crease and fired it home.

“Maybe we were on our heels a little bit,” Gustavsson said, “but I can just go to myself, and you want to help the team when they need you. So I don’t know so much about what we did wrong, but I just feel like maybe I should try to get one more save there.”

Buffalo’s final two goals came on empty-netters in the final 1:18 of regulation, but by then, the damage had been done. The Bruins had already abandoned the game plan, abandoned their structure, and it cost them against a divisional opponent.

“Good teams, when you get scored on — no matter what the score is, you have to forget about it and get ready for the next shift,” Krejci said. “I don’t think there was a turning point, but not much to say. Good teams shouldn’t do what we did tonight.”

Given that so few points separate the top five teams in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins are well aware that each and every game presents an opportunity. But on Saturday night, they had yet another chance to jump up into first place in the division. With just 10 minutes remaining in regulation, they had the chance to close out the Sabres and seize that top spot. They couldn’t do it.

“We didn’t respect the game plan like we said, and we just kind of sat back,” Marchand said. “We didn’t play on our toes, we didn’t play physical, we didn’t continue to go after it, and couple mistakes ended up in a goal. They got the momentum, and they just kind of rolled from there.

“Those are things that we have to better at. Especially, these are big points — we could have jumped ahead to first tonight, so that would’ve been nice.”

Saturday’s contest marked the first in a set of three games in four nights for the Bruins. If there is any silver lining to the grueling schedule ahead, it is the fact that on Sunday, Boston will have the opportunity to get right back at it less than 24 hours after a scathing defeat.

They will set off for Ottawa in the hopes of righting the ship, once and for all.

“We definitely have to park this and learn from it, but get ready for [Sunday],” Marchand said. “We can’t dwell on this and drag the energy into tomorrow. We have to make sure that we park it and just get prepared to play a better game tomorrow.”

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