BUFFALO — The Bruins made enough of their riches Sunday night, pinning a 3-1 loss on the Sabres for their third win a row and improving their impressive start to 8-1-1 in the lockout-shortened season.
But the final score didn’t do true justice to how much the Bruins outplayed, and especially outshot (39-26), their old Adams Division playpals. They dominated the Sabres for much of the game, but their ever-sputtering power play too often kept them from pulling away and making a much easier night for themselves.
“At times our power play looked disorganized,’’ noted Bruins coach Claude Julien. “You have to give penalty killing on both sides credit. But I didn’t think our execution on the power play was very good. It comes down to execution and burying the puck, and until we do that we’ll continue to struggle with it.’’
Finally, with 7:52 gone in the third period and the scored knotted at 1-1, Patrice Bergeron connected with the winner only 28 seconds after the Sabres were penalized for delay of game. Chris Bourque initiated the score with a shot from up high that ricocheted into the slot off the rear wall. With the Sabres’ back line slow to adjust, Bergeron swooped in and potted a wrister from the inner edge of the left circle, beating goalie Ryan Miller halfway up on the glove side.
Bergeron had his second goal of the season and the Bruins finally had their first power-play goal in five games. They began the night 0 for 13 on the power play over the previous four games.
“We’ve been talking for some time, since the start of the season, that we have to create some momentum with our power play,’’ said Bergeron. “You have to stay positive, find a way. Obviously, it has to be better. And today all it took was that lucky break — the bounce off the back that went right by their defensemen. It comes down to karma at some point . . . you have to get one.’’
The Bruins, who are back at work Tuesday night with the Rangers in town, finally broke the scoreless tie with 7:10 gone in the second period. Brad Marchand snapped off a wrister from the left circle after a short dish from Andrew Ference. Nathan Horton helped set it up by establishing a screen in front of Miller, fighting for position in front with defenseman Andrej Sekera. It was Marchand’s first game back since banging up a shoulder Feb. 2 in Toronto.
“He has a great shot,’’ said Bergeron, Marchand’s center. “And he’s really good at getting pucks in the corner, hunting pucks. That was a big goal.”
Had the Bruins shown any touch with the power play, they could have had the Sabres run out of their own building by the end of 40 minutes. But the Black and Gold fumbled every chance with the advantage through two periods, and it finally caught up with them at 18:01 when Dougie Hamilton failed to cover in front of the net, leaving Tyler Ennis all alone to cash in the equalizer.
It was a two-part breakdown for the rookie defenseman. He had control of the puck behind the net, then mistakenly pushed it too far, setting up Drew Stafford along the boards, enabling the centering pass. Hamilton was also too slow to cover in front, Ennis left with open acreage for the shot.
“Bad bump by me,’’ acknowledged Hamilton. “I bumped it too far ahead with my stick.’’
And next time?
“Better bump,’’ said Hamilton.
The anticipated big-man rematch between Shawn Thornton and John Scott never materialized. Ten days earlier, Scott put Thornton out of commission, leaving him with a concussion after the two pugilists banged away at each other at the Garden. The two routinely found themselves on the ice again at the same time, but neither seemed interested in engaging in another match of fists.
Anton Khudobin was sharp in net, although the Sabres’ offense was muted. Case in point: League-leading scorer Thomas Vanek was barely visible. He was 3-2—5 in the first meeting. He went 0-0—0 Sunday night, and managed but one shot on net.
The closing goal went to Milan Lucic, who fired into an empty net with 49 seconds to play. The Bruins ended the night 1 for 5 on the power play, their futility at its highest when they failed yet again on a five-on-three over a span of 40 seconds in the second period.
“Nice to see us find a way to score some extra goals at the end,’’ said Julien, focusing on the Bergeron and Lucic strikes. “That’s where we have to do better.’’