Sabres 4, Bruins 1

Sabres reveal sharp edge, push Bruins to Game 6

Shawn Thornton could only look ahead after the Bruins dropped a potential clincher to the Sabres. Shawn Thornton could only look ahead after the Bruins dropped a potential clincher to the Sabres. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 24, 2010

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BUFFALO — After requiring protection for his broken nose for the last six games, Zdeno Chara’s beak was deemed healed enough last night for the captain to go cage-free. Without the bars impeding his sightlines, Chara spotted an ugly sight — a team that didn’t show up when it could have sent the Sabres scurrying for tee times.

“We came out flat,’’ said Chara, tossed at the end of the game for his role in a melee that prompted Buffalo’s Ryan Miller to leave the crease. “They came out really hard and desperate. We didn’t match that. We fell behind by a goal right away. Then it took us almost the whole game to get going. We played better in the third. But that’s not going to get us where we want to go, playing 20 minutes.’’

The result: a 4-1 Boston loss before 18,690 at HSBC Arena, the most one-sided of the five games. While the Sabres, desperate to keep their season alive, did everything their coaches asked — offensive contributions from their go-to guns, energy from the youngsters, gum-’em-up defense in front of Miller — the Bruins did nothing to remind their followers last night was a playoff game. Instead, the Bruins showed all the intensity of a dog-day night in February.

“We finally came to play in the third period,’’ said Johnny Boychuk, who scored the lone Black-and-Gold goal at 17:30 of the third. “That just wasn’t enough. You have to play 60 minutes to get a playoff win.’’

It was a startling showing from a Boston squad that had competed at peak form in Games 1 through 4 and was rewarded with a 3-1 series lead. Then again, emotional engagement has been an issue for the 2009-10 Bruins. Just when you think they have things rolling, they turn in a flat-tire performance.

“It’s disappointing any time you lose. Simple as that,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Are we going to hang our heads all the way back to Boston and feel sorry for ourselves? I don’t think so. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves and they battled back. That’s what we’re going to do. We plan on doing the same thing. That’s why it’s a best-of-seven. We’ve got to work on winning the next one.’’

Even before the opening puck drop, the Sabres showed they weren’t going to be pushed around. As Patrice Bergeron leaned in for the draw, Paul Gaustad delivered a jolt to his opponent. Gaustad was thrown out of the faceoff, and Bergeron won the draw from Tim Connolly, but the Buffalo forward sent a message that might have been felt later in the game.

“Bergeron always gets in first on every draw,’’ Miller said. “He always gets in first. He always ducks his head. And he always crowds. That’s his way of establishing. Paul’s a good centerman, too. He knows how to get some space. Sometimes you’ve got to take it.’’

For the fifth straight game, Buffalo struck first. Adam Mair lugged the puck around the Boston net and flung a bad-angle shot on goal. Tuukka Rask, practically picture-perfect in Wednesday’s double-overtime win, felt Mair’s shot tick off his left heel, slide between his pads, and find the back of the net at 1:54 of the opening period.

Late in the first, the Sabres scored the eventual winning goal after three failed attempts by the Bruins to clear the zone. Tyler Ennis carried the puck into the zone, but turned the puck over to Andrew Ference. The defenseman tried to chip a backhander off the wall and out, but Derek Roy, holding the blue line, kept the puck in the zone. Ference tried another backhand clear, but the puck bounced off Vladimir Sobotka’s skate. Sobotka tried one more clearing attempt, but Ennis stripped the puck and gave it to Roy. As Roy gained control, Jason Pominville drove to the net, took his center’s pass, and tucked the puck behind Rask at 18:54.

“On both goals, there were mistakes,’’ Julien said. “We didn’t do a very good job in the first two periods. And the kinds of mistakes — not getting the puck out, bringing the puck back in and turning it over — we had some guys [last night] that weren’t good enough for us. We’re a team that wins when everybody’s playing well. We need everybody going. [Last night], we didn’t have that.’’

The Sabres grabbed a three-goal lead, the biggest of the series, in the second period. At 9:20, on an offensive-zone draw, Gaustad beat Bergeron cleanly, pulling the puck to Mike Grier. Two seconds later, Grier whistled a shot past Rask.

Next stop: TD Garden. Game 6. Monday.

“Tonight was obviously our best game,’’ said a rarely pressured Miller, who made 34 saves, hardly any of the show-stopping kind as in Game 4. “Now that they’ve seen our best game, they’re going to have to react to our best game.’’

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