BUFFALO, NY - Brad Marchand scored two goals just 1:14 apart to put the Bruins up in Buffalo, but they were the only two chances the Black & Gold could put past Ryan Miller, falling 4-2 at First Niagara Center on Thursday night.
The good news? The Bruins are still 23-10-2 on the season, with another crack at Buffalo on Saturday night to finish off the home-and-home at TD Garden.
The not so good news? The loss came with the Bruins dominating most of the offensive zone time in the game, especially in the second period, before outshooting the Sabres 15-5 in the third.
Ryan Miller made 34 saves on 36 shots. After Marchand's second tally 3:04 into the second period, Miller stoned the Bruins.
"We probably deserved a better fate than what happened," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame. "I thought we controlled the game pretty good, but the goaltender at that end made some pretty big saves to keep them in the game, especially in that second period, we had lots of chances."
"Unfortunately you have a 2-1 lead, somehow you want to try and extend that lead a little bit more instead of keeping it that tight. So we gave them an opportunity to come back in the third, and they did."
The Sabres initially took a 1-0 lead in the first period, with a shorthanded goal from Brian Flynn.
Mike Weber had tried to get Milan Lucic to drop the gloves. Lucic, not one to back down too often, decided it wasn't the best time. Both went to the box, with Weber getting an extra penalty (holding). Alas, a Bruins' power play. But Flynn's speed on a bouncing puck gave him a point-blank on Chad Johnson, between the pipes for his eighth start as a Bruin.
"He doesn’t have to fight every time," said Julien, of Lucic. "He knows he’s tough, he knows he’s a top line player, and we want him on the ice more than we need him in the penalty box and I think he did what he had to do."
It was only Buffalo's eighth first period goal of the season. They had scored a league-low 59 goals entering the game (Nashville was next with 78). But they took advantage of their opportunities, and scored three unanswered goals for the 4-2 win.
The Sabres' tying goal came late in the second, with Marcus Foligno putting home a rebound right on the door step after Jamie McBain's shot deflected in front.
"I think it hit off my stick and then I was sitting on the back; that was one of those bounces that you get in hockey and sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t," said David Warsofsky, who made his NHL debut on the Bruins' blueline.
Buffalo then put up two goals in the third. The game-winner came from Drew Stafford on the wraparound with just shy of five minutes left in regulation. With the Bruins pressing, Tyler Myers converted on a 3-on-2 rush for the insurance goal.
"It’s just disappointing," said Johnson. "I was kind of overaggressive on the first play there [on the wraparound] and you knew he was coming on the wing I was just too tight there and I didn’t get over the other side."
"That’s a tough goal late in the third, tie game, just to let a goal like that in it’s just, again, disappointing."
The Sabres were coming off a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets in which they strung together a confident game. That's what Boston was expecting.
"Just a team who’s going to be resilient, trying to look for wins right now," Johnson had said prior to the matchup. "They’ve been struggling a little bit this year but they have some talent over there and in this league, anyone can beat anybody."
Still, the Bruins left this one feeling they were in control for most of the night and let it slip away.
"Overall, when you look at the scoring chances we had, we should have been able to capitalize a little bit more on those with the number of them," said Julien. "But when you don’t, eventually the other team will take advantage of that and they made the best of their scoring chances."
Before the Sabres had taken the lead in the third, there was no better example of the Bruins' zone time than the lengthy shift (roughly 1:30) from Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla, that's become somewhat of a habit from game to game.
"It’s not necessarily easy to move forward; it’s always disappointing when you lose. In the second period we had a lot of really good opportunities especially late in the period, Looch’s line had a great shift and got out a couple [chances], said Marchand, who made a bid for a three-goal night on a few occasions.
"I had a really good chance early in the third. Bergy came around the net and I actually thought it went in but I made a good shot, I put it all into it but he made a great save. He’s a really good goalie and I was lucky to get two, so that’s how it goes."
"It's nice that we play them again this week and have another crack at them."
The Bruins will turn right around and host the Sabres on Saturday night at TD Garden.
Marchand Making Strides
Brad Marchand hasn't necessarily had the season he was hoping for, with only 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) through his first 35 games.
But his two-goal night (and near hat trick) and strong skating almost made the difference against Buffalo.
"I think he was close to his old self tonight and that was nice to see," said Julien. "Competed hard in all areas and skated better than I had seen him skate in a long time. So he got rewarded with a couple of goals and even, he could have a few more with a little bit of luck. But I liked his game."
Marchand's night may have seemed like a break-through performance, but General Manager Peter Chiarelli had seen it coming.
"He’s finding his way," the GM had said pregame. "He’s skating better. He’s driving deeper when he’s rushing with the puck. I see him making plays – he pulls up a little sooner when he doesn’t have the confidence."
"I go back over his last six, seven games, I’ve liked his play. He’s getting his legs back and his hands back and it’s just about looking at it in the way of an 82-game schedule and figuring it out over the course of the schedule and being patient. Maybe he’s showed little signs of impatience, but I think his game is coming around."
Can a game like this get the winger going?
"Yeah I hope so. It’s obviously nice to get one or two," said Marchand, whose focus wasn't necessarily on his own game, given the outcome. "But all that really matters is that we lost. I thought we had a pretty good game and we could have deserved more but we have to regroup and play better next game."
Warsofsky's NHL Debut
Marshfield, MA native (and ex-BU Terrier) David Warsofsky made his NHL debut in Buffalo, marking the latest Bruins' callup during the injury bug to earn his first game.
The defenseman started the night paired with Johnny Boychuk, and played 12:29 in ice time through 14 shifts, recording a blocked shot.
"I thought he skated well and he moved the puck well," said Julien. "He skated well with it, as well, through the neutral zone and did some good plays out there and made some good decisions so I didn’t mind his game."
"First game in the NHL, I thought he played with a lot of confidence."
The jump from Providence to Boston isn't all that great in terms of system and positioning; it's always more so about adjusting to the speed of the NHL game. As a 5-foot-9 blueliner, like Torey Krug, that positional coverage becomes key.
"He's learned to defend positionally and that’s taken him a little bit of time," Chiarelli had said pregame, prior to Warsofsky's NHL debut. He had also cautioned that because it would be his first game, there may be a couple of blips in coverage, but that was to be expected.
"You’ll see that he’s a very good skating, smart, heavy player," the GM had said.
"It was exciting," remarked Warsofsky postgame. "Nervous at the beginning but I thought once I got into the game, once I started skating a little bit, it was fun. I wish we could get the win - but a good first experience."
Fraser Drops 'Em
Just 3:37 into the first period, Matt Fraser challenged Sabres forward Marcus Foligno to drop the gloves. He obliged, and Fraser engaged in his first career NHL fight.
"I’m not going to be mistaken for a fighter but I think anything to help stay in the lineup or help get the momentum going our way, I’m definitely willing to do that," said the winger, who has now played in five games up with the Bruins, after being recalled prior to their game against Toronto that kicked off the road swing through Canada last week.
He has no points yet in the Spoked-B, and wanted to impact both the scoresheet and the game. It was a bold move, that showed he wasn't afraid to fight.
"I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. Those top six guys, they can do it all. You look at Looch, he can literally do it all. I’m not pretending to fill his shoes but even Iginla, he can do it all," said Fraser.
"It’s something that you kind of strive towards and you want to kind of do whatever you can so the coaches can say, ‘We can put this guy out on a power play,’ or ‘He can play ten minutes a night and not be a liability out there.’"
"So it’s just kind of trying to expand my role."
Julien the Latest Battling the Flu
For the past two days, Head Coach Claude Julien has stayed off the ice during the Bruins' practice and pregame skate, while he's been battling the flu that hit the team last week. GM Peter Chiarelli was "pinch-hitting" for his media availability, but did not find himself behind the bench in Buffalo.
Postgame, Julien was asked how he was feeling.
"Surviving," remarked the Bruins' bench boss.
It seems that, just as the team powered through illness, so to does their leader.
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