They’ve already faced Buffalo three times this season, but moreover, the last time was a mere two days ago, back at the First Niagara Center, when the Bruins pulled out a hard-fought, come-from-behind 3-2 shootout victory.
“It was a tough game,” said forward David Krejci following Saturday’s optional morning skate. “We won it in [a shootout], so it wasn’t an easy win, but I really like the way we played — a full 60 minutes, high intensity, and the execution in the second and third period was pretty good.
“We have to play the same way today again — full 60 minutes, play really hard, put pucks deep, work them down low. That’s what we’re practicing the last few days. That’s the only way we can beat these guys.”
Home-and-home series were rare for the Bruins last year, but this year, they have become more commonplace. They’re a bit unusual in the regular season, normally reserved for the playoffs.
For some involved, though, they evoke memories of the pre-NHL days.
“It reminds me of college,” quipped Sabres Head Coach Dan Bylsma. “I think just you feel like you’re playing a playoff series in some aspects, where you’ve got the same team back-to-back nights, two out of three, and I like the animosity it brings in the game. I like the — I don’t want to say the rivalry aspect to it — but you don’t like looking at the same players too often, and you start to build that animosity. And frankly, I think that’s where we need to be at to have success in this game tonight.”
Though these two teams are by no means storied rivals, both sides could derive a bit of emotion from what has transpired in the first three games of this season’s series.The Bruins certainly remember what happened the last time they faced the Sabres in this building, when they took a two-goal lead into the final 11 minutes of regulation only to squander it and ultimately fall 6-3.
In the last two games between these two clubs, however, the Bruins have pulled out victories — one by a wide margin, one by a narrow one-goal margin.
Boston has seen both sides of the Sabres, and up and down the lineup, they are trying to prepare for whatever version might show up at the Garden on Saturday.
“I think our physicality has a big role playing against them,” said forward Zac Rinaldo. “All four lines have to be rolling. I know their third and fourth line have been doing really well over their last course of maybe six, seven games, so we’re really trying to focus in on not just focusing on their top two lines but also all their four lines.”
Coming off Thursday’s game, though, the Bruins are nothing if not confident. That night, they proved they had what it took to come from behind late in the game and pull out a victory on the road.
Now, they just have to keep proving that Thursday’s game wasn’t an isolated incident.
“I think it’s a process, and it’s having confidence and knowing your team can do it, and we’ve shown that we can do it,” said forward Jimmy Hayes. “So we’ve got to continue to build strides on that and continue to put ourselves through those tight games, having a lead and playing with it and being confident, and just keep pushing forward like we did last game.
“We can continue to learn from that and be successful.”
Room for Improvement
The Bruins were satisfied with their effort on Thursday against Buffalo. Though they fell behind early on, they chipped away at the Sabres’ two goal lead, eventually tying the game about three minutes into the third period.
But there are certainly things they are still trying to improve — namely, their performances in one-goal games, which have been largely unsatisfactory this season.
“I think we have to learn how to win tight hockey games,” Krejci said. “So that was a very big win for us [on Thursday] — not just two points, but kind of prove ourselves that we can play those tight games. So we expect the same type of game tonight, and should be ready, and hopefully we can close it up against like we did last game.”
The B’s have also established an alarming trend this season of jumping out to early leads and squandering them late in games. That obviously wasn’t the case on Thursday in Buffalo — in fact, the exact opposite happened — but it’s still something they’re wary of, especially given the logjam in the Eastern Conference standings.
Every point on any given night is crucial, and the B’s know they can’t afford to be giving points away, especially against divisional opponents like the Sabres.
“This league’s really tight,” Rinaldo said. ‘You lose two games, you can go down to the eighth, ninth spot; you win one game, you go back up to second or possibly even first. So we’re not looking at the standings as much as we are through [Buffalo’s] system, and every guy on every line.”
The B’s know they also have to get serious about improving their record at home. It’s no longer a coincidence: The Bruins simply perform better on the road than they do in their own building. Away from the Garden, they 16-5-3; at home, they are 11-13-3.
How do they fix that?
“I guess we’re going to have to stay away from the internet, from media, and don’t read about these things,” Krejci joked. “We have a good group here. Obviously we don’t talk about it. We’re going to try to play the same way at home as we do on the road.”
If the B’s manage to pull out wins in each of their next two games — their final two home games before a season-long six-game road trip that begins on Feb. 11 in Winnipeg — they can hit the .500 mark at home.
That is a goal they have set for themselves before they pack up again.
“Obviously, we’ve been having success on the road, and we have to do the same thing at home and have confidence that we can play that game we want to play: A simple game, going north,” Hayes said. “It keeps coming back to confidence and believing in our team that we can finish out games and proving at home that we can do it.”
Following Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced that forward Joonas Kemppainen had been assigned to Providence.
It marked Kemppainen’s first AHL assignment since signing with Boston as a free agent this past offseason.
On Saturday, Julien said the move was made to simply get Kemppainen into some games. Kemppainen served as a healthy scratch in each of Boston’s first two games back from the All-Star Break, and the last time he saw game action was on Jan. 26 against Anaheim.
“You don’t need waivers for Joonas [to go down], so it was an opportunity for him to go there and play a few games,” Julien said.
Kemppainen, 27, is in the midst of his first NHL season after spending the last nine years playing professionally in Finland. The adjustment to the North American game certainly hasn’t been easy, and Julien is understanding of that. He was pleased with Kemppainen’s play in the early going this season, particularly on the faceoff dot and on the penalty kill, but he believes Kemppainen could use a bit more confidence offensively to get himself going again.
That’s where a Providence stint — however long or short — could come in handy.
“I think he just needs to get some confidence there offensively because his numbers have been good in the past,” Julien said. “So just give him a chance to go out there and play and maybe help himself out that way and get some confidence. Other than that, we’ve appreciated his consistency on faceoffs and his defensive play. And his penalty killing has been extremely good.
“So for him to just give us a little bit of offense there, maybe we send him [to Providence] since he’s not playing and he’ll gain a little bit of confidence there.
“He’s an older player that’s been playing the same way at the pro level for a long time, so all of a sudden, he comes here in the smaller rinks and everything else, and I guess the thought process of how you create some offense might be a little bit different, too. So he just has to adapt here and gain some confidence. And I think most of all, it’s confidence to be able to go out there and create those plays.”
Beanpot Coming Up
On Monday night, the Bruins won’t be on the ice at TD Garden, but there still will be plenty of hockey-related buzz in the building as the Beanpot — the annual tournament featuring college hockey powerhouses Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern — will take the stage.
At least two players who will face off on Saturday night didn’t have to dig too deep for memories of their own Beanpot days.
“[The final] is going to be a great game,” said Sabres forward and BU alum Jack Eichel, who won the tournament last year. “It’s always a big rivalry, a lot of emotions, and I know the guys are going to enjoy it. So I’m looking forward to watching.”
Hayes, who attended BC from 2008-11, has fond memories of the Beanpot, too.
“It’s a lot of fun to go back and forth with the schools — who’s got a better team,” Hayes said. “It’s a lot of fun there.
“I’ll definitely be watching — maybe even get a chance to come to the game, so it’ll be nice.”
Optional Skate for the B’s
The Bruins held a well-attended optional skate on Saturday morning. All 13 forwards skated, and the only defenseman missing was Torey Krug.
Adam McQuaid, who remains day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury suffered on Jan. 5, continued to skate with the team.
Jonas Gustavsson was the only goalie who took the ice for the skate.
Projected Lineup Saturday vs. Buffalo
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Brett Connolly
Loui Eriksson — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Matt Beleskey — Ryan Spooner — Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo — Max Talbot — Landon Ferraro
Zdeno Chara — Zach Trotman
Dennis Seidenberg — Colin Miller
Torey Krug — Kevan Miller
Starting Goaltender: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson