BUFFALO - Considering the circumstances, the Bruins could be satisfied with a 1-point decision last night.
They were playing their second game in two nights, against a team that hadn't seen action since Saturday. They were playing their sixth road game of the season. They were going head to head with one of the two remaining undefeated clubs in the Eastern Conference. They were staring down Ryan Miller, who is maturing into an elite netminder.
So in that light, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres before 18,334 at
"Our effort was there," said coach Claude Julien. "Our will and determination were there. But it almost feels like Groundhog Day here."
For the second straight night and third time this season, the Bruins lost in a shootout, with three Eastern rivals (Montreal, Pittsburgh, and now Buffalo) gaining the extra point.
"We can go on and on about having lots of scoring chances and creating a lot," said Dennis Wideman, who scored the game's opening goal. "But we have to find a way to win. We can't keep losing in the shootout and giving divisional teams extra points. We have to find a way to win."
In the shootout, Drew Stafford struck first, tapping a backhander past Manny Fernandez. David Krejci, Boston's third shooter, kept the shootout going by powering a wrister through Miller.
But Thomas Vanek, the NHL's reigning Player of the Week, made a skilled maneuver to score the deciding goal. Vanek, going full speed at Fernandez, faked a forehand, pulling his stick in front of the puck. Fernandez bit slightly on the move, allowing Vanek to reposition his stick and flick a wrister into the net.
At the other end, Miller turned aside Marc Savard, Boston's final shooter.
Earlier in the shootout, Miller stopped Phil Kessel and Patrice Bergeron. Julien tapped Zdeno Chara for the first time this season, but Chara, Boston's fourth shooter, never got his boomer unleashed, as the puck dribbled off the heel of his stick.
"He's got good hands," said Fernandez (28 saves) of Vanek. "I was a little deep on that one, expecting a deke. I think I'd rather go out there, have my head free, and not think, 'OK, this guy likes this move and this guy likes that move.'
"Regardless, I think everybody adjusts in this league. Everybody's good enough to pull something out of their hat."
At one point, the Bruins had their skates on the Sabres' throats. After the first period, Boston held a 16-6 shot advantage. In the second, after Stafford was called for goaltender interference, the Bruins converted on the power play to make it 2-0.
Milan Lucic fed the puck to a streaking Kessel, who faced a retreating Buffalo defense in the slot. Kessel reared back and whipped a quick-release wrister over Miller at 11:48 for his sixth goal.
But just 13 seconds later, Mark Stuart was nabbed for interference, giving the Sabres the opportunity they needed. Buffalo took advantage and got on the scoreboard when forward Clarke MacArthur, stationed in the slot, tipped a one-timer by captain Craig Rivet past Fernandez at 13:33.
In the third period, the surging Sabres tied the game when Stafford got the puck along the left wall with Wideman in coverage. Stafford faked to the center of the ice and threw off Wideman's timing. Stafford took the puck wide, drove to the net, and whacked a shot past Fernandez at 5:48.
"I just think, as the game went on, we turned it over a little more and gave them a lot more neutral-zone regroups," said Wideman. "That's a team that excels in finding lanes and having guys with speed. When they're coming at us with speed and we're trying to re-gap, it makes it a lot harder to get back and get clean breakouts."
If Boston buckled under Buffalo's late pressure, the Bruins simply couldn't break through on Miller. In the second period, with the score 1-0, Miller stopped a Kessel wrister. The rebound skittered out to Savard, but Miller scooted to his right and stuffed the center's follow-up bid.
Andrew Ference floated a shot from the point that Miller kicked out. Krejci was in position for the rebound and spotted some room upstairs. But Miller (30 saves) repositioned himself and snared Krejci's top-shelf shot with a flash of his glove at 11:11.
"I think he made some really big saves for them tonight," said Julien. "We had some chances there in the first half to really put the game away. He kept them in there. Slowly but surely, they crept their way back in and found a way to win."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.