The Bruins had to play 60 minutes of regulation, five minutes of overtime, and three shootout rounds yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden to claim a 3-2 win -- Marco Sturm netting the deciding shootout goal -- over the Buffalo Sabres, the current kings of the Eastern Conference.
But you could argue that the Bruins, flailing in the quicksand of a 1-5-1 spiral, won yesterday's match before the puck even dropped.
One of coach Dave Lewis's popular refrains is that in times of adversity, no one cares about your troubles except the guys in the dressing room.
Yesterday, that room was where the work began.
In the morning, Lewis's new lines were scribbled on the greaseboard for all to see; only the No. 1 threesome of P.J. Axelsson, Marc Savard, and Glen Murray remained intact.
The Bruins also had a meeting, as they did after the 10-2 embarrassment against the Maple Leafs Jan. 4, to discuss the situation they were in: a freefall that needed to stop with a victory.
"Things haven't been going our way for a couple weeks now," said Paul Mara. "So we laid everything out on the table about what we needed to do to win."
After that meeting, they watched clips of highlights, mixed in with a cut of Al Pacino's thundering speech from "Any Given Sunday," that video coordinator Brant Berglund had assembled for a team in desperate need of inspiration.
"Clips of big hits, guys sticking up for each other," said Berglund. "Blue-collar highlights."
The pregame happenings, tactical as well as emotional, prompted the sky-high Bruins to play an efficient 19-shot opening frame that Lewis called a period in which his team couldn't have performed better.
Shean Donovan, promoted to second-line duties, buzzed around the rink the entire period, creating space for linemates Sturm and Patrice Bergeron. Brad Boyes, moved back to his natural center position on the fourth line, clicked with Petr Tenkrat and Phil Kessel, with both wings recording two first-period shots.
But for all that, the Bruins were tied at 2-2 through 20 minutes -- and fortunate not to be trailing. Savard opened the scoring with a power-play goal, rapping home the rebound of a Zdeno Chara one-timer at 3:23. Forward Derek Roy tied the score for the Sabres after Tim Thomas stopped consecutive shots by defenseman Teppo Numminen and forward Daniel Paille, leaving a rebound that he couldn't cover.
Forward Jochen Hecht gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead at 9:17. Forward Chris Drury wristed a shot that Thomas kicked out, but Hecht settled the rebound and slipped it past the netminder and a sliding Brad Stuart.
It appeared the Sabres would skate into the dressing room with their 2-1 lead intact. But on the final rush of the period, Stuart, entering the offensive zone with speed, aimed a wrister on goal that Ryan Miller couldn't handle. The puck bounced off his glove, ticked off the skate of defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, and crossed the goal line.
Video replay showed that 0.9 seconds were left on the clock, making the goal official. Axelsson, who had sliced through the slot while being hounded by Spacek, was credited with the goal.
"That was huge," Savard said. "You need breaks to win hockey games. We got a couple breaks."
After the first period, the goalies bricked up their nets. Miller, under siege in the first period, stopped all 18 Boston shots through regulation and overtime, none better than the second-period stick save he made on Mara.
Thomas was just as sharp, making 14 of his 34 saves in the third period when wave after wave of Sabres attacked the cage.
But Thomas saved his best for the shootout, when he stoned all three Buffalo shooters, with little effort. Forwards Daniel Briere, Ales Kotalik, and Thomas Vanek aimed glove-side on Thomas with forehand shots. Thomas, waiting for the shooters to make the first move, didn't have to go into his usual acrobatics to keep the puck out of his net.
On the other end, Sturm, Boston's first shooter, charged toward the goal, and as Miller went down to pokecheck the puck, Sturm lifted a wrister over the goalie for the lone shootout score. It was enough to give his club, which has a rematch against the Sabres tomorrow at
"It was characterized as a must-win," Mara said. "Everyone stepped up. We needed it. But we can't have a letdown [tomorrow]."