If you’ve never heard the Bostonian’s version of the word ‘Miller’, both you and Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller certainly learned through repetition last night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the TD Garden.
Splitting two games a piece in Buffalo, the Sabres and Bruins returned to Boston in the Bruins’ first playoff game on Causeway Street since Game 7 of the second round last season on a Marathon Monday where both clubs had the chance to seize the lead in the series. Even without Thomas Vanek in the line-up, the general consensus among fans outside the arena was that this contest, much like all of these contests in this series, was anyone’s game.
With the crowd roaring from the onset of the giant Bruins flag being passed around the arena from section to section, former Boston University Terrier Mike Grier quickly silenced the raucous Boston crowd with his first goal of the playoffs. Snapping a quick wrist shot through Rask’s glove-side, the Sabres took the lead for the third straight game in the series.
As the two depleted offenses continued their trading in of goals in exchange for added tenacity in every facet of the contest, a post-whistle scrum between Bruins defensemen Andrew Ference and Buffalo agitator Paul Gaustad put the contest with two minutes of four-on-four late in the first period.
With blue-liner Andrej Sekera pinching up into the Boston zone, B’s defensemen Matt Hunwick saw his window of opportunity open when he hit Vladimir Sobotka with an up-ice pass. Sobotka, flying up the right side, hits blue-liner Dennis Wideman with a no-look pass on the rush as Wideman fires a beauty of a one-timer high-blocker side through Miller to knot the game up at one.
Registering his first point of the postseason and finally rewarding the fruits of his labor in the point department, Wideman’s tally sparked a cheer out of the Boston crowd that has been building up since last season’s bitter end.
After a Milan Lucic high-stick on Craig Rivet that came just under the two minute mark of the second period, the Bruins began their series of successful penalty kills for the night, killing off all three chances for Buffalo in the period that ended with both teams engaged in a phenomenal defensive stalemate.
Killing off the closing moments of the Sabres power-play with ease, keeping their success rate at 100% for the series on the man-disadvantage, the Bruins got what appeared to be their best chance of the period just over three minutes in.
Off a great dish from center Patrice Bergeron, Michael Ryder banged a one-timer in front of the crease but somehow Miller stopped the puck, collapsing down and covering it up. Watching the replay nearly a dozen times, it was simply one of those moments where a goaltender was in the right place at the right time; a frequent place for Miller throughout the contest.
Boston’s luck changed when the ageless Mark Recchi out-hustled Buffalo rookie Tim Kennedy in a chase for the puck, ultimately dumping the Sabres forward down in his own end and set up Bergeron with a great feed that #37 in black wasted no time with, firing the shot through Miller to put the Bruins up by one with 7:03 to play in the third period. On the Twitter-world there was some outcry as to whether or not Recchi’s hit on Kennedy could be deemed as interference or not, and after watching the replay it all comes down to the fact that these are the NHL Playoffs. Had this been a regular season game I could totally see where the grip among Buffalo fans is, but in this series, which has been poorly officiated at best if you ask me on both sides, you have to figure that an incident like that doesn’t warrant a whistle.
It didn’t take long for Buffalo to get their feathers ruffled after the go-ahead goal by Boston as on the ensuing play in the Boston end lead to a melee in which there were a total of 54 minutes in penalties handed out to six players in all. The brawl also gave Vladimir Sobotka his first career fighting major at the NHL level, who exchanged jabs with Andrej Sekera. In the midst of the downright pandemonium in front of Rask’s net, Andrew Ference was involved in two altercations with Sabres veterans Craig Rivet and Raffi Torres.
On the receiving end of some jabs from Rivet during which Ference seemingly expressed no desire to have a go with the Buffalo captain, Torres came in and did more of the same, trying to provoke Ference and straight out punching him with his gloves still on in an effort to attempt the B’s defensemen to perhaps draw a penalty in favor of Buffalo.
Now do I think that Ference was an innocent bystander in all of this chaos? Absolutely not considering Ference was visibly throwing a few pushes in the pile prior to the breakout. However, it was just two games ago where the Bruins were on the penalty kill after a similar incident erupted involving Boston captain Zdeno Chara and Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta. While it made sense in terms of cooling the heads down and taking control of the game, I still cannot find the reasons that justify Ference receiving a ten-minute misconduct.
Now with order restored, the Bruins had to play survivor and buckle down with six minutes and change to play. As the Sabres poured on a relentless offensive attack that saw rookie Tyler Myers jumping up front in almost every play, the Sabres were forced to pull Ryan Miller from the net with a minute to play for the second straight game. Getting possession of the puck at center ice, Steve Begin’s spin-o-rama shot from the blue-line was blocked by a Buffalo blue-liner, creating a rebound for a blast from Johnny Boychuk, which was blocked again, this time by Toni Lydman.
With the puck sitting in the Buffalo zone, former-Bruin Steve Montador did something he never did in Boston–he helped the Bruins win. Carelessly tossing the puck up ice, Montador’s aimless pass went sailing behind the Boston net, good for a Buffalo-dooming icing call with six seconds left to play.
Taking a 2-1 series lead, as the final horn sounded a sea of gold towels began waving as Rask pumped his fists in a scene of pure jubilee in Boston.
Not enough can be said of the intensity the Bruins came into the contest with. From the second their skates hit the ice ’til the final horn, the Bruins played like a team with a purpose. And as cliche as it sounds, the Boston crowd was unbelievably electric all game long. The albeit mocking chants towards Miller were deafening, as were the “Let’s Go Bruins” and the admiring and over-winded choruses of Tuu’s towards the Boston netminder. However, B’s fans can’t get too emotionally wrapped up in this victory because while 2-1 looks nice on paper, if the Sabres win tomorrow night in Boston, this series goes from a five game series to a three game series.
I can’t help but believe Buffalo is still very, very, much in this series.
A Tip of the Cap To…
Can enough be said about the play of Johnny Boychuk in this series? Paired with Zdeno Chara since the season-ending injury to Dennis Seidenberg, Boychuk has responded remarkably in the playoffs with tremendous physicality and defensive awareness. Personally, since watching the first game of the series where Boychuk felt angry and perhaps even embarrassed by the what he believed to be illegal hit to the noggin from Tyler Myers that went unpunished, there’s been a tremendous upping in the presence of #55. Registering three blocked shots and two hits in last night’s contest, there was none bigger than the one Boychuk delivered to Matt Ellis midway through the second period.
Try watching that and not feeling your own head get rattled.
Goat of the Game
For me, Andrej Sekera simply looked awful for the Buffalo Sabres. Logging 14 minutes of ice-time, Sekera’s botched pinching up into the Boston zone that lead to the Bruins’ first goal of the game was brutal to watch while he tallied seven minutes in penalties during the contest, which included a fight with 5’10″ Bruins forward Vladimir Sobotka.
It’s Game 4 at the TD Garden tomorrow night where the Bruins have the chance to go up 3-1 in their first round series. The Sabres will come into the contest perhaps without Thomas Vanek yet again who may also be joined by Matt Ellis, who was injured in the collision with Johnny Boychuk. An irrelevant stat to note? The Bruins are 1-2 under Claude Julien in Game 4′s.
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About the Author: Ty Anderson ran the Chronicles From The Garden blogspot account during the 2008-09 NHL season before joining HockeyIndependent as the Bruins Blogger. He is a Seinfeld enthusiast, self-admitted Star Wars nerd, Vezina-quality street-hockey goaltender, and can be found in Balcony 314 of every Bruins home game. Follow him and his tweeting madness on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/_TyAnderson or send him an e-mail at TAndersonBruins@gmail.com.