Late yesterday morning, still unsure if he would be in the lineup for the first time in a month, Bruins winger Chuck Kobasew pondered the element needed for a successful return.
"Timing," he said. "You can work on that in practice, but sometimes the only way to get that back is by getting into games."
Come game time, the 26-year-old was on right wing, on the fourth line with center Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton.
Come the end of the game, the former Boston College forward had a goal and an assist to his credit in a 3-1 victory over the Sabres at TD Banknorth Garden.
All in all, not bad timing.
"Those guys keep it simple," said Kobasew, who exited the lineup with a fractured leg Oct. 9 in Colorado. "We kept going at 'em, and it was a big game, a big win for us."
Coach Claude Julien didn't make up his mind to play Kobasew until warm-up. Both Kobasew and Petteri Nokelainen, a mainstay of late on the fourth line, came out for the skate, but it was clear when Nokelainen exited the ice a littler earlier than usual that Kobasew got the nod.
"We said all along, if he was going to get in there, then he had [to be ready] to be a difference-maker," said Julien.
Kobasew connected on what proved to be the winning goal at 2:47 of the second period, snapping in a long-range wrister on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. He also assisted on the tying goal by Dennis Wideman in the first period, sliding a pass that Yelle relayed up to Wideman at the point.
Around the 15:00 mark of the first, the Sabres leading by a goal, Kobasew looked ready to fight winger Maxim Afinogenov as they bumped near the benches. Kobasew, without a stick, vigorously shook both gloves at the speedy Russian, but any potential bout ended when Afinogenov went directly to his bench.
"We got a little mixed up there, going to our benches," said Kobasew, downplaying the incident. "It was the end of a shift . . . nothing much happening there."
Tough guy Thornton was duly impressed.
"Yeah," said Thornton. "I don't have to fight anymore."
Not ready to rumble
The Bruins were feisty throughout the night, but the fists never flew. Beside the Kobasew-Afinogenov engagement, it looked as if Andrej Sekera wanted to take on Zdeno Chara early in the second period, but the Boston captain swatted him away like a bothersome bumblebee at the company picnic.
Marco Sturm traded a couple of shoves and elbows with Derek Roy at 16:50 of the third near the Boston bench, but that too failed to launch. And, with 7:30 gone in the third, Milan Lucic put a big hit on Adam Mair. Seconds later Lucic invited Mair to battle, but the Sabres' pesky pivot opted not to offer himself up as ground beef.
Dump and hit
Lucic, one of the game's fiercest hitters, plays the left side of the No. 1 line, with Marc Savard in the middle and speedy Phil Kessel on the opposite wing. The big man's devastating hits, said Savard, are forcing the veteran center to change his game.
"I've never been much of a dump-it-in-the-zone guy," said Savard. "But with Looch, I know 99 percent of the time, if there's a battle for the puck, he's going to get it. Which means all I have to do is get near him, and I'm going to get the puck. I'm adapting to that, my game's changing a little."
Thornton assisted on Kobasew's second-period goal for his second assist and second point all season. The hard-working fourth-liner landed three shots on net in the first period. Thornton had only 20 shots on net in his first 13 games. "The question is, when is one of them going to go in?" asked Thornton. He potted four goals last season with 65 shots in 58 games . . . The Bruins this season have outscored their opponents, 42-34. Remember, this is a squad that hasn't finished with a positive goal-differential in the three seasons since the lockout - total of 661 goals for and 777 against . . . It was one of Boston's best nights at the faceoff dot in memory. They won 30 of 45 draws (67 percent). Yelle, challenged in the early going this season, won 7 of 8, while David Krejci took 9 of 13 and Savard 8 of 12. It was a tough night for Sabres center Tim Connolly, who lost 10 of 14 . . . Jason Pominville had a game-high eight shots on net, all turned away by Manny Fernandez. Wideman landed six shots at Miller, one for a goal . . . Lucic matched the eight-hit total that he delivered in Vancouver Oct. 28. All 12 Buffalo forwards combined for a matching eight hits.