By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
In a season in which the most-consistent thing about the Boston Bruins has been their inconsistency, last night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres truly was a microcosm of the B’s 2010-2011 season thus far.
The Sabres were returning to Boston for the first time since losing the decisive Game Six in last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal match-up. It was a battle of recent Vezina winners as Ryan Miller (’09-’10) and Tim Thomas (’08-’09) served as the masked men.
After being pushed back on their heels in the opening minutes of last night’s contest, momentum suddenly swung in Boston’s favor. Despite getting the better scoring chances, Boston couldn’t seem to put the puck on net, as they were held shotless for the first seven minutes of play.
Milan Lucic eventually got Boston on the board with his lucky 13th goal of the season, which just barely snuck between Miller’s pad and the post. The goal gave Boston the 1-0 lead and effectively snapped Miller’s career-long shutout streak of 161 minutes, 35 seconds.
Going into the second period, Boston lost the services of defenseman Mark Stuart, who was sidelined with a broken hand. The injury seemed to put a strain on the defense as the Bruins sunk back into the tentative style of play which has plagued the team at times.
Buffalo took advantage of Boston’s wincing, applied unrelenting pressure and tied the game at 1-1 off of Luke Adam’s first NHL goal.
Thomas Vanek would pot the go-ahead goal early in the third period with a bizarre shot from below the goal-line, which bounced of Tim Thomas’ shoulder and into the net.
Nathan Horton would revitalize the Garden crowd, and the team, with the game-tying goal off of an awful Buffalo turnover (helped along by a great pinch-in by Johnny Boychuk) late in the third.
From there, it was all Boston as the B’s came inches away from winning the game in regulation and were finally able to clinch the victory off of a Mark Recchi deflection in overtime.
Two points salvaged, faith restored and breath exhaled.
The win showcased some of Boston’s best assets with the team’s late comeback, amazing goaltending and ability to create chances. However, also on display were the troubling tendencies Boston has shown far too often this season.
When opponents commit to the forecheck, Boston’s defenders look hesitant, and more often than not, that leads to even more pressure in front of the Bruins net. Generally, Mark Stuart is one of the Bruins best at crowd management in front of the blue paint, but with the 26-year-old defenseman sidelined indefinitely, this has to be one of the team’s biggest areas of concern.
GM Peter Chiarelli didn’t have to wait long to test the defensive pipeline he put his faith in when he signed off on the Matt Hunwick trade, as Providence defenseman Steven Kampfer has been called up to replace Stuart.
While goaltending is one of Boston’s greatest strengths, it’s obvious that the B’s have relied too heavily on Tim Thomas. Though Thomas is playing some of the best hockey of his life, at 36, the Bruins should be trying to conserve his energy for April. But whether it’s Thomas or Tuukka Rask in net, the fact remains that Boston has been allowing far too many shots on goal.
The Boston Bruins are a work in progress. Last night’s win was an exciting one, but management has to be concerned with their team’s performance as of late. Thankfully, there’s no better time to try and reinvigorate the troops than with the lowly New York Islanders coming to town tomorrow night.