In a game that was hyped as a revenge match for the Buffalo Sabres rather than a battle for first place in the Northeast Division, the Boston Bruins matched the retribution-fueled intensity of the Sabres, erased a two-goal deficit and took over first place with a 4-3 shootout win at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
Benoit Pouliot scored the lone goal of the shootout in the fifth round to give the Bruins their 10th straight win. Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin scored in regulation for the Bruins, while Christian Ehroff, Thomas Vanek and T.J. Brennan scored for the Sabres.
Sabres and Bruins answer bell physically: As expected, Bruins winger Milan Lucic was challenged almost immediately as the Sabres attempted to exact revenge for Lucic’s hit on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller on Nov. 12. After Lucic stepped on the ice for his first shift, Sabres winger Paul Gaustad, who was critical of himself and his teammates for not responding to the Miller hit and defending their superstar goalie, stepped on the ice, lined up next to Lucic for a faceoff and challenged him. As soon as the puck dropped, the two dropped the gloves with Lucic getting a decisive win.
But the fisticuffs weren’t over. Gaustad hit Brad Marchand from behind 11:33 into the opening period, drawing the ire of Marchand’s teammates and a scrum ensued with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr fighting, and Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid and Sabres winger Corey Tropp getting into it.
Then, just as they promised prior to the game, the Bruins took care of business when their goalie, Thomas, was interfered with and bumped. Drew Stafford went hard to the net 18:36 into the second period. While he didn’t make close to the contact that Lucic made with Miller, it still sparked a response as defenseman Andrew Ference immediately grabbed Stafford and fought with him. After that, though, the game turned into a run-and-gun affair as both teams focused on the crucial two points at hand.
O Captain, my captain! All the talk heading into this game was how the Sabres would respond to Lucic and his hit on Miller, but Chara's response to the Sabres also made a statement. The Bruins captain made sure that no one would be taking liberties with his teammates when he came to the defense of Marchand in the first period, then made his presence felt on the scoreboard, tying the game, 3-3, 3:35 into the third period. It was Chara’s third goal of the season, and with 15 points, he is quietly having another Norris Trophy-quality season.
Pouliot rewards Julien’s faith: Despite the fact that Benoit Pouliot took consecutive penalties in the second period of the Bruins’ 1-0 win at Montreal, giving the Canadiens a chance to use their solid power play to score, Bruins coach Claude Julien praised the play of Pouliot after the game and had him in the lineup again Wednesday. Pouliot rewarded Julien’s faith by scoring the shootout winner. Pouliot has only two goals, but it is clear the Bruins are giving him a chance to prove himself; his performance and shootout goal Wednesday may give him the confidence he needs to do so.
Thomas’ shutout streak broken, but still in Vezina form: Christian Ehrhoff snapped Thomas’ shutout streak at 223:12 minutes, but the defending Vezina Trophy winner held his Vezina form through the final two periods, overtime and the shootout. Thomas had 31 saves in regulation and overtime, then stopped all five shooters in the shootout. Thomas was especially clutch in the final 1:03 of regulation and first :57 of overtime when the Bruins had to kill off a David Krejci hooking penalty.
Seguin sets career high in goals: Tyler Seguin continued his breakout season with a goal and assist, and now has 23 points. That was Seguin’s 12th goal of the season, topping his 11 goals last season in only his 20th game.
Marchand takes licking but keeps on ticking: While the Sabres were definitely focused on Lucic, Brad Marchand also seemed to have a target on his back. That is to be expected since Marchand has become a well-known pest around the league, but unlike most agitators, Marchand fights back and backs up his talk. After Gaustad took a run at Marchand in the first period, Thomas Vanek laid out the Bruins winger with a perfect open-ice hit. But Marchand got right up as the play went into the Sabres offensive zone and scored his seventh goal off the rebound of a Patrice Bergeron goal to cut the Sabres’ lead to 3-2.