Bruins stifle Sabres, inch closer to playoff berth
If the Rangers lose in regulation to Philadelphia tonight, the Bruins are in the playoffs. Or with just one more win of their own — tomorrow against Carolina at home or at Washington Sunday — they are also guaranteed a postseason spot.
The Bruins, who have bolted ahead of Montreal into sixth place, are on the cusp of playing well into April, thanks to a 3-1 win over Buffalo last night before 17,565 fans at TD Garden.
But they’re not officially in.
“Not yet. Not yet,’’ said Zdeno Chara. “I know it’s a big win. But at the same time, we don’t want to rely on other teams. We want to get there by winning.’’
It was a win delivered off the stick of Dennis Wideman, the star-crossed defenseman who’s seemingly seen every one of his mistakes this season turn into pucks that end up behind his goalies. The latest example: a backhanded whack off the boards in the first period that led to a Derek Roy breakaway and a 1-0 Buffalo lead.
“He’s had some tough times,’’ coach Claude Julien acknowledged. “I think his teammates and the coaching staff certainly support him.
“There’s obviously some frustration. It’s a normal thing. The most important thing is that he stuck with it. He scored the big goal for us. He was a valuable asset for our team tonight.’’
Following Roy’s goal, pockets of the Garden crowd booed Wideman when the puck was on his stick.
“They can do whatever they want,’’ Wideman said. “They pay to come to the game. Obviously at the start of the year and for most of the year, things didn’t go as well as I would like, as it has in the past. I just have to prove to them that I can still play and I still want to win.’’
Those boos turned into cheers in the third. Wideman netted the game-winning goal (Miroslav Satan tied the game at 2:15 of the second) after Blake Wheeler, another of the scuffling Bruins, created a turnover. As Chris Butler skated the puck out of the Buffalo zone, Wheeler attacked the defenseman at the blue line. The puck skittered off Butler’s backhand to Vladimir Sobotka, who careened into the Buffalo zone.
As Sobotka carried the puck, Wheeler (zero points in the last 12 games) crashed the net in hopes for a cross-crease dish. A backchecking Butler was too close to Wheeler for Sobotka to attempt a pass.
Instead, Sobotka pulled up at the right circle, checked out his options, and spotted Wideman at the right point. With Wheeler setting a screen on Patrick Lalime, Wideman threaded a wrist shot that sailed over the netminder at 1:59 of the third to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
“Blake did a great job on that goal,’’ said Wideman. “He turned the puck over in the neutral zone. It went to Vlad, then Vlad drove wide and showed great patience, not just throwing it at the net into a crowd of people.
“He pulled back and saw me in the slot. All I had to do was make sure I hit a hole in the net because Blake had a great screen on him.’’
It was the type of play desperately needed by the NHL’s worst offense. Gritty work by Wheeler amid his offensive slump. Some touch by Sobotka, asked to do more in the absence of Marc Savard. An on-target bid by Wideman, who’s seen far too many of his attempts thump off shot-blockers or flutter wide of the net.
“Very happy for him,’’ said Mark Recchi, who stretched the Bruins’ third-period lead to two goals when he tipped Chara’s one-timer past Lalime at 16:35. “It was a big goal for us. Huge goal for us.
“He’s played very well of late. He’s been asked to step up. I don’t know what happened on [Roy’s] goal. It seemed like a funky bounce.
“He’s played very well for us. You don’t like to see any player go through that. He’s a good teammate and a good guy. He’s trying hard.’’
Wideman, one of four defensemen expected to emerge with the injuries to Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and Mark Stuart, logged 23:33 of ice time.
It was the fourth-most ice time behind Chara (30:20), Johnny Boychuk (28:49), and Matt Hunwick (26:16), while rookies Adam McQuaid (8:45) and Andrew Bodnarchuk (3:11) have only been given spare shifts in the last two games.
With Seidenberg unavailable until June and Ference and Stuart not expected to return until the playoffs, Wideman and crew won’t be getting much rest this weekend, especially if the Bruins want to stay out of eighth place and avoid a first-round showdown against the high-flying Capitals.
“We’re not in,’’ Julien said. “We’ve still got to win games and control our own destiny. We’ve got to do what it takes. Those guys can get some rest between games if they have to.’’