Vanek Dominates in 7-4 Buffalo Win Over Boston

BOSTON, MA –  On Thursday evening, the Boston Bruins welcomed the Buffalo Sabres to the TD Garden for their first Northeast division clash of the 2013 season. Unfortunately for the 17, 565 sellout crowd that packed into the arena, the Bruins were unable to hold a 3-1 second period lead as Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek ran like a buzz saw through the Boston defense en route to a 5-point night and a 7-4 Sabres’ victory. The longtime Bruins-killer has now recorded 15 points in just six games this season, the hottest start to a campaign in his 8-year NHL career.

“This is the best stretch he’s (Vanek) played. He’s good on both sides of the puck, he’s skating well and he’s making plays. I think it’s fun for our line to be able to click the way we have early on, and hopefully we can keep it going.” – Jason Pominville

Despite the media hype and anticipation of a “fight-fest” of sorts, the game’s first period was relatively quiet, with the exception of a few colossal thuds heard just less than three minutes in. Buffalo’s newly-signed 6’8” monster of a man that is John Scott would drop the gloves after a face-off at the 2:53 mark and about fifteen seconds later he would drop Shawn Thornton in the most one-sided bout I’ve seen over the course of the veteran Thornton’s five-plus years with Boston. In fairness to Thornton, going up against a player six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier is an awfully difficult task. Unfortunately, No. 22 would pay dearly for his bravery as he would be forced to sit out the remainder of the game with an undisclosed injury.

At the 1:38 mark of the second period, we’d finally see the game’s first goal as the Sabres would take advantage of a Boston turnover and turn it into a 2-on-1 breakaway. Sophomore pivot Cody Hodgson fed one across the ice to noted Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek who slapped it past Boston netminder Tuukka Rask to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.

Less than four minutes later, Boston would begin a series of three-straight goals in a span of just five and a half minutes. First up was Rich Peverley, displaying some excellent patience in waiting for a shot blocker to hit the ice before releasing the puck and sending it top-shelf to tie the score at one. Next up was Brad Marchand with a dazzling move to the backhand to give the Bruins their first lead of the evening. Just three minutes and eleven seconds later, Marchand would tally another, as he fired a wrist shot past Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller with linemate Tyler Seguin providing the screen in front.

“That was a great job and you know with Tyler (Seguin) we’ve talked about that – you know, just being more assertive, because when he’s more assertive, he’s more sure of everything he’s going to do, and it makes him that much of a better player. So I thought he did a good job tonight, because he was one of the main reasons why Brad (Marchand)scored like that.” – Claude Julien

Buffalo would storm back in the final four minutes of the period with a pair of goals to tie the score before the second intermission. With a 5-on-3 advantage, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff sent one through the middle and it deflected off Vanek’s skate and through the five-hole of Rask. No. 26 in white would strike again less than two minutes later when he found a wide open Tyler Ennis in front for the game-tying goal.

It looked as if the Bruins had straightened things out early in the third period after a beautiful shot from David Krejci put the team ahead, 4-3, less than two minutes into the frame. However, just 0:43 seconds later, an Alexander Sulzer wrist shot would make its way through a screen and past Tuukka Rask to tie the score at four a side. On a night when defensive breakdowns were the theme of the evening, it was only fitting that Buffalo would score both the deciding goal and add an insurance tally on odd-man rushes.

“We usually pride ourselves on defense and being a hard team to play against, and they had a lot of chances tonight from in close, and you can’t really feel too good for any of the goals.” – Rich Peverley

At the 6:54 mark of the final period, former-Canuck Cody Hodgson would put Buffalo in front for good after one-timing a beautiful cross-ice feed from Thomas Vanek into the Boston net at the tail end of another 2-on-1 break. The final nail in the coffin came with just 1:31 left on the clock and the Bruins swarming in search of a game-tying goal. A turnover at the blueline would end up leaving Thursday’s star of the evening, Thomas Vanek, all alone on a breakaway. The Austrian-born superstar would make no mistake, dangling Rask and sending the puck into the goal to secure his first hat-trick of the 2013 season.

An empty-net goal scored by Sabres’ captain Jason Pominville would extend the score to 7-4 as the Bruins would fall in regulation for the first time this season.

For the Bruins, Thursday’s loss can be attributed to an uncharacteristic series of defensive breakdowns that went on throughout the game. The performance was enough to draw the ire of head coach Claude Julien, who at one point even mentioned that his team was defensively “brain dead” during Thursday’s game.

“I didn’t expect this type of game because it wasn’t our type of game. When you look at the way we played, the sloppiness of guys left by themselves around our net, the puck watching all over the place. It was really a disappointing, I guess, loss in a way, where our guys defensively were just totally, totally out of it.” – Claude Julien

On the other side of the rink, Thursday’s effort was a fairly meaningful statement from a Buffalo team looking to regain some traction in the Northeast division.

“It’s huge for us. Not only because they hadn’t lost at home, but they’re always a top team in our conference and our division. We were going through a little bit of a tough time, it was nice to get a win and put in a full sixty-minute effort. It was good to be rewarded that way.” – Jason Pominville

Stat of the Night:  0:01. What does this number mean, you ask? It represents the time-on-ice of one John Scott prior to dropping the gloves with Shawn Thornton early in the game’s opening period. Now, I’ll give Scott all the credit in the world for being as good a fighter as he’s proven to be. After all, he did thoroughly handle one of the game’s best fighters in a way that no one’s ever seen before. I also applaud him for being a considerate and thoughtful player in expressing concern over the injury that Thornton suffered during the bout. However, the fact of the matter is that there is simply no place in the NHL for the type of role that Scott plays. Entering Thursday’s game, he’d accumulated a grand total of 20:30 of total ice time in six games this season. One-dimensional brawlers who aren’t used for anything but a fight here and there just don’t belong in the 2013 NHL. That type of pre-arranged and unnecessary fighting is one of hockey’s most urgent problems today. Most teams, like the Bruins, are ahead of the curve, utilizing each and every roster spot, employing valuable penalty-killers and role-players on their fourth lines (i.e. Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell). Why the Buffalo Sabres insist on dressing a player that coach Lindy Ruff only trusts enough for five minutes of ice time per night continues to puzzle me. 

Ben’s Three Stars:

1)  Thomas Vanek (3 Goals/2 Assists)

2) Brad Marchand (2 Goals/4 Shots)

3) Ryan Miller (38 Saves)

Next Game: Saturday February 2, 2013 – 7:00 PM – AT Toronto Maple Leafs

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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Michigan Fan. Street Hockey Agitator. My work has been featured at the New England and New York Hockey Journals, The Hockey Guys, and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com!

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