Special teams stepping up

BOSTON -- When opponents have the second- and third-best penalty-killing units in the league during the regular season, it’s a safe bet both power plays will be kept at bay, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That’s been the case for the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Entering Game 4 tonight at the TD Garden, the Bruins’ PK is 12-for-12 this series, while the Sabres are 1-for-6 in the same category.

The Bruins finally gained their first lead of the series during Game 2 in Buffalo when a minute later, Boston’s Shawn Thornton was called for a high stick. Most would think an opportunity like that for the Sabres, especially playing on home ice, could result in a tie game. But the Bruins’ penalty-killing unit didn’t allow any quality chances and kept the Sabres at bay, and eventually won, 5-3.

“When you’re confident in your penalty kill, and they can step up and do the job, it certainly encourages you to be a physical team and a hard team to play against,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “That has certainly given us confidence.”

Even though Bruins forward Marco Sturm has been held scoreless in this series, he’s been a key component on the penalty kill. He made a smart play in Game 3 that led to a whistle in the offensive zone and allowed the Bruins to get fresh legs on the ice. The game was tied at 1-1 when Sturm controlled the puck at the Buffalo blue line. He dumped the puck in toward the Sabres' goal and then crashed the net, forcing goalie Ryan Miller to hold onto it.

“We try to pressure them pretty hard and it’s worked well,” said Sturm. “That’s their problem and we have to do our job.”

Julien likes to rotate three units on the PK with each one going twice during a span of a two-minute penalty. It’s worked and has proved crucial.

“It’s short. It’s hard and it’s consistent,” said Julien. “Instead of waiting until they get tired to get off, before they get tired we get some fresh bodies out there. There’s been some good momentum that way and it also allows us to put pressure up the ice and that’s something we didn’t do as well last year that we’ve done better this year.”