The Bruins have maintained all along that with their playoff destiny in their own hands, they would find a way to climb into one of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference. You can hardly fault the team for its optimism given how well it was executing leading up to the Olympic break.
However, with 21 conference games remaining, a pattern of win-one, lose-one isn't the best way of earning a playoff berth. Last night, Boston dropped its fourth straight decision to the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, at the TD Banknorth Garden, after blowing a 2-0 lead. Goalie Martin Biron had 40 saves for the victory.
The step back was costly as Montreal defeated Tampa Bay and Atlanta rebounded from Thursday's loss to Boston to beat Washington, leaving the Bruins 6 points behind eighth-place Montreal and 2 behind the Thrashers. The Bruins have to wait only until Tuesday night until they see the Sabres again, this time in Buffalo.
The Bruins got off to a strong start, went to sleep in the middle, and roared back at the end but it was too late.
''It's not about what they did, it never has been around here," said Bruins veteran Tom Fitzgerald. ''It's about us, we had a bit of a lull in the second period. We've been a team that's been playing 60 minutes. So again, it's how we responded after the second and how we came out in the third and it's an indication of how we'll come out in Buffalo."
The Bruins came out well in the opening period, taking advantage of the fact the Sabres had played the night before, then traveled from Buffalo. Realistically, the Bruins could've had half a dozen goals in the first 20 minutes. They came at the Sabres in waves, outshooting the visitors, 11-6, but they were up only 2-1 heading into the first intermission.
Boston's first line of Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm, and Brad Boyes was sensational early. At 2:53, Boyes drove to the net, beating Buffalo defenseman Jay McKee down the slot, and drawing a hooking penalty. That led to the Bruins' first goal.
Defenseman Brian Leetch, positioned in the left circle, dished a pass to Bergeron below the circle. Bergeron fired it through the crease and it nicked off the glove of Biron. The goaltender couldn't hang onto it, however, and Sturm flipped a backhander over the goalie's glove at 3:41. It was Sturm's 300th NHL point.
The Bruins doubled their lead only a few minutes later on Glen Murray's 19th tally of the year, this one at even strength.
The Sabres' Chris Drury turned the puck over and Sergei Samsonov took full advantage. He drove down the left circle, oblivious to the defensive pressure trying to stop him. He beat McKee and skated the puck behind the net. With defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick trying to break up the play, Samsonov threaded a perfect backhand centering pass to Murray, who tapped it past Biron at 7:05. At that point, Boston was outshooting the Sabres, 8-3.
The bad news was that Buffalo's fourth shot turned into the first of three straight goals. The first, which came at 16:12, proved to be a momentum shifter as the Sabres repeatedly exploited Boston's inability to defend against the back-door play, which was a factor in all three Sabres goals.
Center Daniel Briere started the flurry when he drove down the left circle and backhanded the puck across the slot to Jochen Hecht, who fired it past goalie Andrew Raycroft.
Although the Bruins had the lead after one, there were signs of trouble. In the faceoff circle, for example, the Bruins won just 5 of 20 draws.
The equalizer for Buffalo came with the teams skating four a side and it was the Briere-Hecht combination once again. At 6:39 of the second, Hecht fed Briere with a cross-crease pass that Briere flipped over the glove of Raycroft (22 saves).
The Sabres clawed their way to their first lead at 15:02 with Hecht and Briere picking up their third points of the contest. Buffalo took advantage of a communications breakdown between Murray and Wayne Primeau, which led to Hecht ripping a cross-ice pass to right wing J.P. Dumont in the right circle. Dumont one-timed it to the glove side of Raycroft and it was 3-2.
The Bruins stormed Biron in the third period, outshooting the Sabres, 20-5, but came up empty.
''It happens all the time, a two-goal lead is probably the worst lead in hockey," lamented Primeau. ''You get up, especially that quick, 2-0 and in the second period we kind of sat back a little more and they took it a little bit to us. [Biron] played great. They're very fortunate, they're in good hands just like we are with goaltending. He played a tremendous game. [On Tuesday], we have to have a full 60 minutes. Overall, we felt we had a great effort. It would've been nicer to see a better result."