Craig Smith scored half of the goals in a, 6-2, win for the Boston Bruins over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, while Jeremy Swayman (6-2-0, 1.62 goals-against average, .942 save percentage in eight games played) made 17 saves on 19 shots against in the victory.
Smith’s hat trick was just his second career hat trick (previous, Feb. 13, 2020 with Nashville in, 5-0, win vs. N.Y. Islanders) and his first in a Bruins uniform.
Sabres goaltender, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1-3-0, 3.89 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in four games played) stopped 26 out of 29 shots faced before sustaining a lower body injury at the end of the second period that kept him out of the final frame.
Luukkonen was replaced by Dustin Tokarski (2-8-2, 3.46 goals-against average, .904 save percentage in 13 games played) turned aside 11 out of 14 shots against for no decision in his relief appearance.
Boston improved to 30-14-6 (66 points) on the season and moved into 3rd place in the MassMutual NHL East Division temporarily as the New York Islanders were in action against the New York Rangers later Saturday night at the time of this writing.
Buffalo fell to 13-32-7 (33 points) overall and remained in last place (8th) in the same division as the B’s finished 7-1-0 in their regular season series with the Sabres.
Boston was without the services of Ondrej Kase (upper body), John Moore (hip) and Brandon Carlo (oblique) on Saturday, though Carlo is expected to return to the lineup next week in New Jersey.
Chris Wagner and Trent Frederic were scratched in favor of Jake DeBrusk and Karson Kuhlman, who served as Curtis Lazar’s wingers on the fourth line.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, promoted Nick Ritchie to the third line left wing with Sean Kuraly at center and Charlie Coyle on right wing, while Jaroslav Halak backed up Swayman– giving Tuukka Rask the afternoon off as the B’s navigate a three-goaltender rotation.
On defense, Matt Grzelcyk was paired with Charlie McAvoy on the first pairing with Mike Reilly alongside Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon with Connor Clifton to round out the blue line.
Boston’s long list of healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players included Frederic, Wagner, Greg McKegg, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Rask, Steven Kampfer, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, Anton Blidh and Jarred Tinordi.
Later this month (May 10th), limited seating capacity at TD Garden will increase to 25% (up from 12%) in accordance with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 reopening plans.
Smith (11) opened the scoring at 1:21 of the first period on a redirected shot pass from David Krejci while on the doorstep to make it, 1-0, Boston.
Krejci (27) and Taylor Hall (21) had the assists as the Bruins struck first for the ninth time in their last 10 games.
Midway through the opening frame, Riley Sheahan was penalized for holding, presenting the afternoon’s first power play to Boston at 10:28.
The Bruins had one second of a 5-on-3 advantage when Mattias Samuelsson tripped Coyle at 12:27, but the B’s power play was powerless as Buffalo’s penalty kill converted on a shorthanded goal off the ensuing faceoff.
As Sheahan (4) was freed from the box, Jacob Bryson connected with his teammate on a tape-to-tape pass, leading No. 15 for the Sabres into the attacking zone on a breakaway before he fired a shot past Swayman on the short side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.
It was the sixth shorthanded goal against allowed by Boston this season, while Bryson (7) and Casey Mittelstadt (10) tallied the assists on Sheahan’s fourth goal of the season at 12:35 of the first period.
Moments later, Kuraly (3) golfed a loose puck into the back of the twine after Ritchie’s initial shot was blocked by a Sabres defender.
Ritchie (11) had the only assist on Kuraly’s first goal in 31 games at 16:38 and the Bruins led, 2-1.
After one period on Saturday, Boston led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 17-4, in shots on goal. The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-1), takeaways (3-2), hits (12-8) and faceoff win percentage (56-44).
Both teams had five giveaways each, while only the B’s had seen any action on the power play– and were 0/2 in that regard– heading into the first intermission.
Lauzon threw a shot towards the goal that Patrice Bergeron (19) deflected, then backhanded a tap-in on his own rebound past Luukkonen while falling to give Boston a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 5:36 of the second period.
Lauzon (7) and Brad Marchand (34) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal.
A few minutes later, Kuraly slashed Bryson and cut a rut to the penalty box, presenting the Sabres with their first power play of the afternoon at 8:34 of the second period.
The B’s penalty kill stood tall as Buffalo’s power play units could not capitalize on the skater advantage.
Dylan Cozens was sent to the sin bin for slashing Miller at 19:09, but the Bruins weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play, despite several zone entries.
Meanwhile, Luukkonen made a save late in the period, then struggled to get up and was helped off as the horn sounded to signal the start of the second intermission.
He did not return to Saturday afternoon’s action and was replaced by Tokarski for the third period.
Through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 29-11, in shots on goal, including a, 12-7, advantage in the second period alone.
The Sabres led in giveaways (8-6) and faceoff win% (55-45), while Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (7-5) and hits (23-19).
Each squad had six takeaways apiece, while Buffalo was 0/1 and the B’s were 0/3 on the power play heading into the final frame.
Ritchie (13) deflected a shot from the point by Grzelcyk over Tokarski to give Boston a three-goal lead, 4-1, at 3:18 of the third period.
Grzelcyk (12) and Miller (3) had the assists on Ritchie’s goal as the Bruins winger picked up his second point of the afternoon.
Shortly thereafter, Reilly worked the puck deep into the zone before sending a quick pass from behind the goal line to Smith (12) for the redirection goal– his second of the game– that made it, 5-1, Boston.
Reilly (25) and Krejci (28) notched the assists on Smith’s goal at 5:31 of the third period, giving the Bruins back-to-back goals in a span of 2:13.
Less than two minutes later, Arttu Ruotsalainen (5) scored on a rebound from the doorstep through Swayman’s five-hole to cut Boston’s lead to three goals.
Rasmus Asplund (4) and Mittelstadt (11) had the assists on Ruotsalainen’s goal as the Sabres trailed the Bruins, 5-2, at 7:02 of the third period.
Less than a minute later, Rasmus Dahlin cross checked David Pastrnak and delivered a swift cross check to Marchand thereafter, though only the initial cross check on Pastrnak was called as a scrum ensued between both lines on the ice at 7:45.
Marchand and Pastrnak received roughing minors, thereby giving the Sabres a power play, despite losing Dahlin to a cross checking infraction.
Buffalo’s power play was unsuccessful, however.
Midway through the third period, William Borgen was penalized for interference at 13:39.
It didn’t take Boston’s power play long for Smith (13) to send another redirected shot pass into the twine behind Tokarski for a power-play goal to extend the lead back to four goals for the B’s.
Krejci (29) and Coyle (11) tabbed the assists on Smith’s third goal of the afternoon and the Bruins led, 6-2, at 14:05 of the third period.
According to 98.5 The Sports Hub‘s Bruins beat reporter, Ty Anderson, Smith’s hat trick was the first for a player not named Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak or Krejci since Jimmy Hayes recorded a hat trick in a, 7-3, win against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 29, 2015.
At the final horn, the B’s sealed the deal on a, 6-2, victory over the Sabres, finishing the afternoon leading in shots (43-19, including a, 14-8, advantage in the third period alone), blocked shots (8-7) and hits (31-25).
Buffalo wrapped up Saturday afternoon, leading in giveaways (10-7) and faceoff win% (53-47), while the Sabres went 0/2 and the Bruins went 1/4 on the power play.
Boston is now 22-5-3 (11-0-2 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 18-0-2 (9-0-1 at home) when leading after the first period and 21-0-2 (13-0-2 at home) when leading after the second period this season.
The Sabres fell to 6-27-2 (3-12-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 3-21-0 (2-9-0 on the road) when trailing after one period and 1-27-2 (0-12-1 on the road) when trailing after two periods in 2020-21.
Next week, the Bruins travel to New Jersey for back-to-back games against the Devils on Monday and Tuesday before hosting the New York Rangers on Thursday and Saturday.
Boston’s last home game of the regular season is May 10th against the New York Islanders and the B’s will finish the regular season on May 11th in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals.