Just 29 seconds into the third period, his wrister from the left point went under a jumping Ryan Spooner, through a Matt Beleskey moving screen and right by Sabres netminder Robin Lehner to give Boston a 2-1 lead.
It came after a faceoff win by Beleskey, who notched a goal and an assist on the night. It was Chara’s first goal in 19 games.
When the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winer was announced in-arena, the boos rained down.
This time around, the Bruins didn’t let up in the third. They closed out a 4-1 win to snap a three-game losing streak and end their five-game road trip with a much-needed victory.
“We wanted to make sure that we kept the high pace,” Chara said postgame. “That we stayed aggressive on the forecheck in our neutral zone and had good breakouts, clean breakouts and for most of the third, we did that.”
“Obviously glad that we were able to maintain our game and be on the other side than we were the last two games.”
The Black & Gold had earned themselves a lead entering the third period in each of their past two games , against the Flyers in Philadelphia, and Rangers in New York. They let those ones slip away.
“It was huge. It was a must-win I think for us,” said Spooner, who had himself a three-point night, netting his 10th of the season to give the Bruins an important two-goal, 3-1 lead midway through the third period.
The Bruins had entering the night tied in points with Carolina and New Jersey for the second Wild Card spot in the East, and three games in hand on both of them. Tampa Bay and Montreal are just above them.
“We have one or two games in hand on a couple of teams that are two or three points ahead of us, so it was definitely a huge win for sure,” said Spooner.
“I think in the past, our first or seconds periods we were pushing the pace a lot and in then in the third we sat back, which I don’t think is the right thing to. I think it was just a mindset with our team and I think tonight, we pushed the pace a bit more and it definitely helped us out for sure.”
The Bruins started the first period outshooting the Sabres 4-1, but a quick flurry by the home team led to an early hole for the Black & Gold.
The sequence started with the Sabres ringing the post and then keeping the pressure on. After a giveaway behind the net, David Legwand picked up the puck and got it by Jonas Gustavsson off a wraparound with 5:23 to go in the first.
Less than 30 seconds later, Max Talbot dropped the gloves with Johan Larsson in a long, spirited bout. It marked Talbot’s first fight as a Bruin, with his most recent one coming in December of 2014.
Goal scoring hasn’t come easily for the Bruins — who had notched two goals or fewer in six of their previous eight games — and Loui Eriksson had two chances stopped by Lehner in the first period.
Lehner, playing in his first game since the Sabres’ season opener in October after returning from a high-ankle sprain, didn’t show any rust.
The Bruins wasted no time getting themselves back into the game early in the second period, though, when Beleskey potted his eighth of the season just 1:01 in.
Spooner sped into the zone and fired on Lehner, with Beleskey quickly driving in the rebound.
“We need guys like that,” Head Coach Claude Julien said of Beleskey. “On the team you need all kinds of players and he’s one of those guys that saw him as a real gritty player, not afraid to go to the dirty areas and in front of the net and battling and being able to find those loose pucks.”
“He’s been a good player. I don’t know if people expected more productivity out of him or what, but he’s given us the physicality that we need up front on forechecks and again, in dirty areas, so it’s nice to see him get rewarded every once in a while.”
Despite the goal, Boston wasn’t able to gain immediate momentum. Gustavsson had to hold a scoring chance from Sabres captain Brian Gionta off a 2-on-1 rush less than a minute after Beleskey’s tally.
The Bruins had to wait until after three straight penalty kills to pick the momentum back up.
From 2:30 to 9:12 into the second, Boston essentially had to play down a man.
“When you kill those three, you get some momentum from that and you feel the energy maybe goes a little bit our way, so that was huge,” said Gustavsson. “We’ve been showing lately that we have a pretty good PK, so we trust we can step up and make those plays and then the offense is going to take over.”
Gustavsson made seven stops during the penalty kills and 16 total saves in the second. He finished the game with 33 saves on 34 shots.
“It was good for us to be able to finish the work,” said the netminder, who was also between the pipes for the Bruins previous win, 4-1 over the Devils on Jan. 8, that kicked off their long road trip.
“We’ve been having the lead in the third period the last couple games, and we managed to keep being on our toes and going for that fourth one instead of backing off,” he said. “So I thought the way we approached tonight was the way to do it.”
The Bruins have only allowed two power play goals through their last 17 games and and 45 times shorthanded. They have not allowed a power play goal in five straight games.
After the string of PKs, the Black & Gold didn’t let their game decline. Their best pressure of the game came towards the end of the second period, and they continued to push the pace in the third.
Spooner made it 3-1 at 10:53 into the final frame when he through the puck on net from the right half wall. The puck may have hit a skate in front, but it made its way through for the important cushion. It capped off his three-point night and, with Eriksson picking up his second assist.
“He’s been a real good asset for us, or a real good replacement for David Krejci since he’s been down,” Julien said of Spooner. “He’s been really skating well, making things happen, backchecking, so really happy with the way that he’s taken on — I guess, that responsibility of losing David and coming in and giving us a second line that has been pretty good offensively.”
The Bruins kept buzzing from there. Brett Connolly scored a cathartic empty-netter with 1:09 to go in the third, notching his first goal in 20 games played, to make it 4-1.
“We really managed the puck well enough not to give them much,” said Julien. “And that’s probably the difference here between tonight and those last two games.”
The way their third period started, is the way it ended — on their toes. Just as the way their road trip started, was the way it ended — on a strong note.
“It feels good to win,” said Chara. “I don’t think that we should be in a position that we should be feeling good about ourselves. We feel good about tonight’s game. Like we said, we started the road trip well, we ended well but we had some breakdowns in those games that we lost.”
“So we have a big game [on Saturday against Toronto] coming back home after a while and then we are on the road again, so we’ve got to bring the same effort.”