-- Prior to the Sabres' game against the Bruins Monday night, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff told the media that he anticipated Boston would come out firing on all cylinders and that if his team could "weather the storm" they would be OK.
Ruff's words proved to be prophetic, as the Bruins came out flying and hitting anything in sight en route to an early lead. But the Sabres, behind 40 saves from Ryan Miller
and a goal and an assist from defenseman Tyler Myers
scored the next three and held on for a 3-2 win to move seven points ahead of idle Ottawa, inching closer to their first Northeast Division title since 2007.
The Bruins failed to pull four points ahead of Atlanta, which lost 4-1 to Carolina. Boston also could have tied Montreal and Philadelphia for sixth, with both idle on Monday.
Miller, who stopped a penalty shot by Marco Sturm 3:20 into the game, credited Myers' goal that tied the game at 9:56 of the first period -- only 2:13 after the Bruins took the lead on a David Krejci
tally -- as the turning point.
"That was big and a smart play getting it to the net," Miller said of the floater from the blue line that found its way through plenty of bodies and past Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas
"They like to block a lot and he just took a shot before they could get established in front and knock it down and I don't think Thomas really had a chance on that one. Top blocker from the blue line through two of his guys. So, really smart play to do it, and from there we did a nice job of getting shots to the net."
Ruff echoed his goaltender's assessment, pointing to the Myers goal and how that slowed down what was to that point a relentless attack from the Bruins. He also pointed to Miller's save on Sturm's penalty shot as a key moment as well.
"Yeah, I think getting on the board," Ruff said about what swung the momentum back in the Sabres' favor. "We knew they'd come out hard. I think they are a desperate team. I watched the way they came out against Calgary, they came out real hard. If you're in the right place, you can create a lot of pressure and I think they did. We got caught flat-footed and 'Millsy' made a huge save on the penalty shot which was really important to us."
Thomas may have been screened on that goal by Myers, but he most likely would want back the next two he gave up.
After trying to deflect another Myers shot to defenseman Dennis Wideman for a clear, Thomas was beat by Paul Gaustad
at 11:34, less than two minutes after Myers had tied the game.
Things didn't get better for the embattled 2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner, who appeared to have regained his game with a 31-save performance in a 5-0 shutout of Calgary on Saturday. Tim Kennedy padded the Buffalo lead to 3-1 when he scored 6:08 into the middle period, and that was it for Thomas. He was pulled in favor of Tuukka Rask
for the sixth time this season after allowing three goals on 14 shots.
Bruins coach Claude Julien, who decided to start Thomas for the second straight game instead of going back to Rask, who has seen the bulk of the workload recently, felt the time was right then to throw the rookie in and hopefully get his team to start playing again.
"Well I think at that point there, that goal was a two-on-one and it kind of trickled through him," Julien said. "But some way you've got to change the momentum and you've got to do something to help your team out. That's what we decided to do at that time."
Thomas was obviously frustrated after the game and felt he could have fought through his struggles.
"You'd like to stay in a game and battle it out, it's no fun getting pulled," Thomas said before calling the game his most frustrating of his pro career.
The goalie switch did seem to calm the Bruins down and Rask turned aside all 19 shots he faced, including two breakaways by Derek Roy
He also helped the Bruins cut the Buffalo lead in half when he caught the Sabres napping on a line change and fed the puck up to defenseman Dennis Seidenberg
, who beat Miller to make it 3-2 with 5:36 left in regulation. But Miller made sure the Sabres held on, stopping Mark Recchi from the side of the net as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The Bruins know they let another good opportunity to secure a playoff spot slip away, but they have to put it behind them and prepare for the Devils at the Prudential Center on Tuesday night.
"It's definitely disappointing here," Sturm said. "It was a big game for us. Every game is big, but we wanted to win definitely at home. We played alright but it's probably not good enough and we have to keep plugging away here. The good thing was we had a lot of shots -- a lot of opportunities -- and hopefully it's going to go in next time."
The Sabres, meanwhile, are also looking to move on, but they're looking to finish higher in the playoff seeding -- not just hang on, as the Bruins are doing.
"As a team, right now, we are focused on moving forward," Myers said. "We have been really focused on our road game and we are going to do everything we can to get into that second spot. It is just taking it game-by-game and focusing on moving forward here."