BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Cam Neely was on a mission.
The Boston Bruins vice president walked into the locker room after the team’s 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with a smile on his face and was looking for one player in particular.
The former Bruin, and Hall of Famer, went right over to Michael Ryder and gave him a fist pump because it was his two goals that helped Boston even the series at 1-1.
Prior to the regular-season finale in Washington last Sunday, Ryder had gone a string of 12 consecutive games without a goal. After he pumped one in against the Capitals he felt like it was a confidence boost heading into the playoffs.
He proved to be right.
Ryder, who scored only 18 goals and added 15 assists during the regular season, put himself in all the right spots in Game 2 on Saturday at HSBC Arena. He crashed the net and took advantage of his quality chances.
“He’s also one of those guys who has been disappointed in his overall season and we had him score some big goals for us tonight,” said Julien.
In both playoff games the Bruins were lifeless in the first period, but managed to come back strong. Boston lost Game 1 despite a solid effort in the second and third periods, but Game 2 was a different story.
Trailing 2-0 Saturday after the first period, the Bruins scored twice in the second. When Ryder pumped in the first one at 2:35, there was a sigh of relief that they were finally able to score an even-strength goal (Boston’s lone goal in Game 1 came on the power play) on the Sabres’ Ryan Miller.
“After the first period we wanted to make sure we got the next goal,” said Ryder. “We knew it was going to be tough to come back if we went down 3-0 against that team. Getting that first goal was big and kind of gave us a little energy and a little momentum and we built from there.”
The Bruins’ Zdeno Chara scored his first of two goals in the game at 9:54 of the second to tie it at 2-2, and it really gave Boston a spark. It didn’t last too long, however, when the Sabres’ Jason Pominville scored the go-ahead goal at 16:41 of the period for a 3-2 lead.
Buffalo’s advantage appeared to be a lock given its ability to completely shut down opponents in the final period this year. The Sabres were 31-0-0 during the regular season when leading after two periods. A lot of that success stems from Miller, but the Bruins netted three third-period goals, including an empty-netter, en route to victory.
“We certainly addressed that and we talked about the adjustments we needed to make to hopefully get us back in the game,” said Julien. “I don’t think anybody was down and everybody understood the urgency of what this game meant to our hockey club and hopefully going back home with a split. As you saw in the third period, our guys were determined to give it their best.”
When Chara scored his second goal of the game at 7:23 of the third period, it gave Boston its first lead in this series and it was clear the Bruins finally had momentum.
“We had our chances and opportunities the first game, but it didn’t happen,” said Chara. “We had to put that game behind us and move onto today’s game and it worked out well for us.”
That momentum swing was almost thwarted when the Bruins’ Shawn Thornton was called for high-sticking at 8:27 and Boston’s penalty kill had to shut down Buffalo’s power play.
“We understood that our penalty kill had to bail us out again,” said Julien. “It’s done that all year for us. The guys really stepped up and did a great job and that includes our goaltender.”
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask finished with 26 saves.
With the victory in hand, Ryder was relieved he found his scoring touch when given the opportunities. It was clear No. 8 was, too.