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Sabres seek to break through, knot series with Bruins

by John McGourty

(Boston leads best-of-seven series, 2-1)

Big Story --
Patrice Bergeron's goal off Mark Recchi's feed in the third period of Monday's Game 3 gave the Bruins a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series. This is a tight, close-checking, shot-blocking, play-on-the-perimeter struggle between two of the NHL's best defensive teams. Boston was third-stingiest in the regular season and Buffalo was 10th. The Sabres were second-best on the penalty-kill and Boston third. The Sabres are 0-for-12 on the power play in the series and the Bruins are 1-for-6. The Bruins have outscored the Sabres, 8-6, in a series that includes a pair of 2-1 games. The other game was a one-goal game until the empty-netter. The teams are "thisclose."

Team Scope:

Sabres -- Coach Lindy Ruff said Wednesday's Game 4 is "not a must-win game but it's a must-play well game." But it's as close to an elimination game as you'd want to get. Teams that go down 3-1 win only nine percent of Stanley Cup Playoff series. Buffalo's loss in Game 2 at home meant they surrendered home-ice advantage and now must win in Boston either Wednesday or next Monday. If they don't win Wednesday, they may not survive to see Monday.

Bruins -- Reporters keep asking coach Claude Julien why Player A or Player B (Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick being two prime examples) are playing better now than earlier in the season. Julien says it's because they're playing harder and smarter but modesty prevents him from saying the whole truth: Coaching. This is a coach whose 2008-09 penalty killers were cut and new ones brought in. With the help of Craig Ramsay, Doug Houda and Bob Essensa, Julien has turned the new players into the NHL's third-best penalty-killing unit and it's making all the difference in this series. Wideman and Hunwick have a better grasp of the Bruins' system now than earlier. Johnny Boychuk sat and watched for 25 games before playing. Now, he's on the No. 1 defensive pairing with Zdeno Chara. That's coaching.

Who's Hot --
Recchi had Boston's only goal in the Game 1 loss, the empty-netter that sealed victory in Game 2 and the assist on the game-winner in Game 3 as a result of a memorable play in which he outfooted Buffalo's Tim Kennedy in a race for the puck behind Buffalo's net, dumped Kennedy on his butt, and made a brilliant pass on the tape to Bergeron. Rookie goalie Tuukka Rask is third among playoff goalies with a 2.01 goals-against average and fourth with a .936 save percentage. … Raffi Torres, Henrik Tallinder and the injured Thomas Vanek each have two points for Buffalo.

Injury Report -- Bruins center Marc Savard hasn't played since suffering a concussion March 7 but could return in this series if he gets medical clearance. … Vanek is day-to-day with an ankle sprain but he can't practice yet for Buffalo. Jochen Hecht had two pinkie surgeries and he won't play in this series. Matt Ellis, who suffered a broken nose and is sore from Boychuk's check Monday night, didn't practice Tuesday and may not play Wednesday.

Stat Pack -- Boston has killed all 12 of Buffalo's power plays in this series. Buffalo finished 10th in the NHL in power-play efficiency and the PP is key to its success with its tight defensive style of play.

Puck Drop -- "We're seeing exactly what we saw in the regular season," Ruff said. "I think they've figured out they're going to try to win the tighter games. I'm seeing exactly what I expected in this series. Both teams are good penalty-killing teams. The power plays aren't getting much going on. It's turning into a low-scoring type of game.

"I don't think that with the way both teams kill, I don't anticipate anybody 'breaking through.' I think that your key players -- them missing Savard, who can make those special plays -- limits them a bit. Without Vanek around the front of the net, it hurts ours."

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