BUFFALO, N.Y. – While the Boston Bruins dealt with the remnants of a blizzard on their way to Western New York, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller weathered a storm of a different kind when the Bruins arrived Sunday.
Miller, coming off a 43-save performance against the New York Islanders on Saturday, stopped 36 shots Sunday night, but his efforts weren't enough as the Sabres fell to the Bruins, 3-1, at First Niagara Center.
At 8-1-1, Boston is off to its best 10-game start in franchise history.
Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning goal on the power play 7:52 into the third period. Forward Chris Bourque whistled a shot in from the left point and it bounced straight back into the slot off the end boards. The puck landed right on Bergeron's stick and he fired a shot into the top corner of the net for his second goal of the season.
The goal was also the Bruins' first power play goal in four games. Boston finished the night 1-for-5 with the man advantage and has gone 1-for-18 in its last five games.
"Obviously we've got to be better, but still, we've had some bad bounces going the other way," Bergeron said. "But today, we'll take that break because it's karma at some point. You have to get one."
The Bruins gained an extra day of rest when their home game on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning was postponed due to inclement weather. The Bruins last played on Wednesday, and the time off played to their advantage.
"We had a different day yesterday, but at least we made it here and no doubt, we were a real rested team," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I didn't mind our game. If anything, I just found that we're really earning our goals these days and they're not coming.
"We spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, which is a good sign. We're skating well, creating turnovers, but it's nice to see us score those extra goals there at the end."
On the other hand, the Sabres played their third game in four nights on Sunday and looked like a tired team at times. The Sabres seemed to finally find their legs by the time the third period rolled around.
"The top half of our line up didn't have [great legs]," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I think they caught a little bit of a break not playing last night, which gave them a little bit of an upper hand, but I thought we matched or almost exceeded their intensity."
Anton Khudobin made 25 saves in his second start of the season for the Bruins and praised his team's defensive effort.
"It was great. I got a little rest in the first and second period. I didn't do much. I just had to stop a couple [shots] to keep it scoreless," Khudobin said. "The guys played awesome in front of me."
Brad Marchand opened the scoring for Boston before Tyler Ennis scored to tie the game for Buffalo. Milan Lucic added an empty-net goal for the Bruins with 48.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
Marchand was one of three injured players to return to the Bruins lineup. Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton also took the ice after each missed the team's previous two games with injuries.
"It was good to see [Marchand] come back and make an impact right away and the other two guys were good," Julien said. "They gave us some stability again in our lineup. It's always nice to get your guys back."
Miller had to come up big for the Sabres several times in the opening period as Boston's sustained attack put 16 pucks on net and had 12 more blocked or go wide.
The Sabres struggled to get the puck out of their own zone for much of the first two periods, which led to a furious Boston assault. Despite outshooting the Sabres 26-18 through two periods, the teams skated to the locker room tied, 1-1.
"[Miller] played real good," Ruff said. "There were some areas defending I liked. There were some big giveaways that our defense had that Ryan made a couple great saves on."
Buffalo managed only 15 shots in its game against the Islanders and they had trouble getting pucks on net again Sunday. They mustered 13 shots on Khudobin in the first, but did not manage a shot on goal in the last 8:31 of the period. Then, after getting the first shot on goal of the second period, the Sabres went nearly 12 minutes without another one. The Bruins ended up outshooting the Sabres 10-5 in the second period.
"I think we started to show our fatigue around the midpoint," Miller said. "They're a tough team to play against and they certainly were going to make it so we weren't going to have the opportunity to score as many goals as we did last time."
Boston couldn't convert on a 41-second 5-on-3 power play early in the second period, but as in the first period, kept the action mainly in the Buffalo zone. On one chance as the penalties expired, Miller went post-to-post and kicked out his right pad to stop a one-timer from Nathan Horton.
The Bruins were finally rewarded for keeping the action in the Sabres' zone with a goal from Marchand 7:10 into the second period. Marchand took a wrist shot from 48 feet out that beat Miller as Horton battled Andrej Sekera to create traffic in front of the net.
Ennis tied the game with 1:59 to play in the second period on Buffalo's fifth shot of period. Drew Stafford connected with Ennis from the halfway as Ennis found himself alone in front of the Bruins' net. Ennis moved in, went from his backhand to forehand, waited for Khudobin to make the first move and put the puck up and over him for his fifth goal of the season.
Ennis has five points (three goals and two assists) in his last four games.
Bergeron came close to making it 3-1 with 5:50 to play. Miller moved to his left and stacked the pads to deny the Bruins' forward and keep it a one-goal game.
The Bruins' only regulation loss this season came at the hands of the Sabres, a 7-4 defeat on Jan. 31. Boston hadn't forgotten the defensive breakdowns in that game that led to a Sabres rally. Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek, the NHL's leading scorer, had five points in that game, but the Bruins held him off the score sheet on Sunday.
Vanek finished with one shot and a minus-1 rating in 15:23 of ice time.
"Tonight it was about tightening up our defensive game and by doing that, I thought we killed the plays early and spent more time in the offensive zone," Julien said.
Boston leads the Northeast Division with 17 points in 10 games and trails the New Jersey Devils for first place in the Eastern Conference by two points. Boston has two games in hand on the Devils. Buffalo now stands at 5-7-1 on the season.
"I think it's important to get off to a good start," Julien said. "The way the schedule was made, we're going to be behind in games played by the end of this month, so it's important to stay in the playoff pack."
Buffalo waived forward Matt Ellis earlier in the day to make room on the roster for defenseman Robyn Regehr, who returned to action after missing seven games with a lower-body injury.