BOSTON - Evan Rodrigues seemed to sum up the feeling in the dressing room following a 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night. It was a disappointing result, but one they need to build on.
The Sabres dominated the Bruins for the first 20 minutes, showcasing the aggressive tendencies they're looking to instill as habits. They pinched along the boards, closed gaps quickly, and moved up the ice as a connected five-man unit.
The Bruins, as reigning conference champions are prone to do, picked up their game coming out of the second intermission. Even then, the Sabres stuck to their plan. It translated in every area but the scoreboard.
"That's the type of game we have to play if we want to win games," Rodrigues said. "We did it early on and we've gotten away from it. We played with urgency, we played on our toes, we pressured the puck. We've been letting teams kind of come at us of late and we have to take it to teams.
"I thought we did that today. Obviously, the result's not there and it's not easy to look at it that way, but we have to."
Video: BUF Recap: Ristolainen, Sabres lose in Boston, 3-2
The Sabres had already tallied 14 shots and taken a 1-0 lead on Rasmus Ristolainen's power-play goal by the time the Bruins generated their first shot against Linus Ullmark, sent from the point with 7:49 remaining in the first period.
Yet for all their opportunities, the Sabres came out of that period in a 1-1 tie. Brad Marchand scored on Boston's second shot, a deflection of a shot from the point by Zdeno Chara.
Marchand buried a rebound on the power play to give the Bruins the lead with 5:15 remaining in the second period, then David Pastrnak added another power-play goal less than two minutes into the third.
The Sabres outshot the Bruins 14-9 in the final period but were held off the board until Brandon Montour scored on a shot from the point with 7:02 remaining, his second goal in as many games. It was the last offense they would muster against Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
"It's really painful right now to digest a game where, in Boston against for me the best team in the league at the moment, we played as good a first period as we could play and dominated in every area of the game except for the score," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said.
"… You feel bad for the guys. They gave it all here today, and we confirmed that kind of game and we confirmed that style of play. We're going to have a lot of wins playing that way."
Video: POSTGAME: Krueger
Rask was a difference maker throughout a 36-save performance, which included a third period stop on Rodrigues that might live on highlight reels for the rest of the season. With the Sabres on a power play and still down 3-1, Rodrigues took a point-blank shot at what seemingly was an open net.
Instead, Rask dove through the creased and used the back side of his blocker to swipe the puck out of harm's way in midair.
"It's arguably the save of the year," Rodrigues said. "Sometimes you just tip your hat and move on. But yeah, that was something else."
It was a key moment, one that would have brought the Sabres back within a goal with more than 15 minutes still let to play. But it was only one of several chances that left the team encouraged with its offensive game.
"I just really liked the effort today right through the lineup," Krueger said. "I thought they played an honest game, they played a team game, and there was a lot of heart, a lot of speed, a lot of opportunity for us there. We were hitting anything and everything but the back of the net here today. What remains is pain, and again we're hammered with something that we have to learn from and grow from."
Rodrigues, Ristolainen, and Montour spoke to reporters after the game. All three players noted the improvements in their play, be it their confident start or their presence at the opposing net. Yet none of them were satisfied with the result.
Video: POSTGAME: Montour
With two more games against talented divisional opponents remaining on their current road trip, the only thing left to do is build on it.
"I mean, it's tough, you know? We just want to win, and it didn't happen today," Ristolainen said. "No one's going to feel sorry for us. We've got to just keep working, keep working. We go to Florida, couple of tough games, try to get better these few days before the next one and try to get a couple wins and go home."
"We knew we would have tough times and we've been tested," Krueger added. "I think the reaction today has shown that the team is staying with it. we'll regroup now. We've got a couple of days after five really tough games in a row to gather some energy. I'm sure with fresh energy and a memory of what we did here well, we'll come back to it.
"Again, we're looking for habits. They're not going to come over night, but with this effort and this kind of a grind, they're going to become more consistent and they're going to come more often. So, I think our general team mindset is to get into the next day and improve, look for opportunity and that's what we'll do here getting ready for Florida and I'm confident our guys will come out with a good game there."
New look pays off on power play
Krueger spoke Thursday morning about utilizing different looks in order to add variety to a power play that entered the day amid a 0-for-21 stretch. One of those looks involved the 6-foot-4 Ristolainen at the net front, something the team experimented with briefly against Minnesota on Tuesday.
It quickly paid off against the Bruins. Just 20 seconds into the Sabres' first power play of the night, Ristolainen buried a rebound in front for his first goal of the season.
Video: BUF@BOS: Ristolainen buries rebound for PPG
"I love it," the defenseman said. "I get in the game, I get a couple shots, I can give some shots, try to make some chaos, try to screen the goalie and try to open some shot lanes for the other guys."
The road trip continues in Florida on Sunday. Coverage on MSG begins at 4:30 p.m., or you can listen on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 5.