The last 11 months have been a bit of a whirlwind for winger Matt Ellis: He has been with Detroit, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Portland (AHL), and back with Buffalo again. But a 3-point effort will put a rest to his traveling woes, and bring a sheepish smile to his face.
For much of their 10-game winning streak, the Bruins had made sure to get on top of their opponent early. But it was the visiting Buffalo Sabres playing the role of aggressor in yesterday's game at TD Banknorth Garden. Buffalo drove the middle and cluttered the slot, creating confusion in front of Boston goaltender Tim Thomas.
The result? A very nice 4-2 win, helped by Ellis's gritty effort. It was a victory that Sabres coach Lindy Ruff called the most satisfying of the year.
"Great job tonight. Right from the start, all the battles were there," Ruff said. "We got pressure on the net, and got rewarded. That's a win where we had a lot of our guys locked right in."
"They skated really good," said Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. "They forechecked really hard with three guys. Sometimes two guys.
"Sometimes we made good breakouts, but they were working extremely hard tonight. They were really hungry. You could sense that desperation at the beginning of the game, which we didn't have from the beginning of the game. We have to improve that."
From the get-go, the Sabres played like a team on a mission; Thomas Vanek had declared it was like a playoff game. They went up, 2-0, after five minutes showing aggression in the low slot, and positioning themselves nicely around the crease for easy tip-ins and rebounds.
Ellis struck first at 3:20, driving into the low slot to deposit the rebound of Henrik Tallinder's shot. Vanek struck less than two minutes later, with a tip-in of a Derek Roy blast. "We knew to beat them with a straight shot, it was going to be tough," Vanek said. "We talked about creating traffic, crashing the net, leading to some goals. I think we got four of them today."
Ellis made it 3-1 in the second period with his second goal, again on a rebound. He then capped his effort with an assist on Buffalo's final goal, Paul Gaustad's redirection off Bruins defenseman Shane Hnidy.
"We knew that we had to come out and compete hard, battle hard, put pucks to the net, with bodies going there," Ellis beamed. "We executed well tonight."
And it's not as if they wore down as the game progressed. Just how tough is it to maintain this level of pressure around the net, against a red-hot team like Boston?
"It's something you've got to look at shift by shift," Ellis said. "It's a funny game, because it sways back and forth."
Not bad for a guy who has seen action on four teams over the last year. He was claimed off waivers by Los Angeles from Detroit last February, was cut in training camp by the Kings, and picked up off waivers by Buffalo. He was sent down to the minors after a month and a half, but was recalled Dec. 18 following an injury to Nathan Gerbe.
"For me, on a personal level, it's pretty exciting," Ellis said. "I'm just trying to make the most of every day."
If you're going to get after a team like Boston early, the most direct approach is to plant yourself around the net. Ellis was the biggest beneficiary of that, showing a determination that went unmatched by the hosts.
"They were obviously gritty and hungry and determined," coach Claude Julien said. "We didn't have enough guys the same way. We had some, but not everybody."