The Boston Bruins got the most out of their top-six forwards on Thursday night in a, 5-2, victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden as Tuukka Rask (13-4-2, 2.27 goals-against average, .916 save percentage in 21 games played) made 29 saves on 31 shots faced in the win.
Sabres netminder, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1-2-0, 3.75 goals-against average, .908 save percentage in three games), had 35 saves on 39 shots against in the loss.
Boston improved to 29-14-6 (64 points) on the season and remain in command of 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division– six points ahead of the New York Rangers, who remain on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.
Buffalo fell to 13-31-7 (33 points) overall and stagnant in 8th place (last) in the division.
The B’s are now 6-1-0 against the Sabres this season with one more game remaining in their regular season series on Saturday afternoon.
The Bruins were without Ondrej Kase (upper body), John Moore (hip), and Brandon Carlo (upper body) on Thursday, while Craig Smith was a game-time decision due to an issue that was resolved prior to warmup with his COVID testing.
As Smith’s issue was absolved, Jake DeBrusk remained a healthy scratch, while B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made minor adjustments among his forwards.
Trent Frederic, Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle made up the third line, while Nick Ritchie, Curtis Lazar and Chris Wagner comprised the fourth line.
Jaroslav Halak served as Rask’s backup with Jeremy Swayman earning the night off.
Meanwhile, Boston’s long list of healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players including, Swayman, Greg McKegg, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Steven Kampfer, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, DeBrusk, Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman and Jarred Tinordi.
Jack Ahcan was sent to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Wednesday, while Urho Vaakanainen was also reassigned to Providence on Thursday ahead of Boston’s game against the Sabres.
The P-Bruins season is winding down and will not feature a postseason following it as the American Hockey League announced on Thursday that for the second straight year, there would be no traditional Calder Cup Playoffs.
Only the AHL’s Pacific Division elected to have a playoff tournament to determine a division champion, while the rest of the AHL’s division title winners will simply default to the team that finishes the season with the best regular season record.
Providence is currently 1st in the Atlantic Division with a 14-6-1-1 record on the season.
Meanwhile, starting May 10th (vs. N.Y. Islanders), TD Garden will increase their limited seating capacity from 12% to 25% in accordance with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 reopening plans.
A little over a minute into the action on Thursday night, David Pastrnak (19) rocketed a one-timer past Luukkonen from his typical spot near the faceoff dot on a pass from across the slot to make it, 1-0, Boston at 1:16 of the first period.
Patrice Bergeron (24) and Brad Marchand (33) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s 199th career National Hockey League goal.
Late in the period, Casey Mittelstadt (10) buried a rebound after the Bruins turned the puck over in their own defensive zone and were caught behind the play.
Arttu Ruotsalainen (1) and Rasmus Asplund (3) notched the assists on Mittelstadt’s goal as the Sabres tied the game, 1-1, at 14:09.
Moments later, Buffalo forward, Sam Reinhart, tripped Pastrnak and presented the Bruins with their first power play of the night at 18:05.
Late in the ensuing skater advantage, as the final second on the clock was winding down prior to the first intermission, David Krejci (8) sent a one-timer off the post that had eyes off of Luukkonen’s back and trickled into the net to give Boston a, 2-1, lead heading into the first intermission.
Charlie McAvoy (23) and Smith (18) had the primary and secondary assists on Krejci’s power-play goal at 19:59.
After one period, the B’s led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and held the advantage in shots on goal, 13-11.
Meanwhile, Buffalo held the advantage in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (4-3), hits (13-9) and faceoff win percentage (59-41). Both teams had two blocked shots apiece while the Sabres had yet to appear on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.
Lazar interfered with Reinhart and presented the Sabres with their first power play of the night at 5:36 of the second period, but Boston’s penalty kill did its job and went unscathed on the scoreboard.
Late in the middle frame, Rasmus Dahlin hooked Marchand and cut a rut to the penalty box at 14:50, but Bruins weren’t able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage.
Through 40 minutes of action on Thursday, Boston led Buffalo, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 28-22, in shots on goal, including a, 15-11, advantage in the second period alone.
The Sabres maintained a hold in blocked shots (6-4), takeaways (8-4), hits (22-17), while the Bruins led in giveaways (7-6) and faceoff win% (63-37).
Buffalo was 0/1 and Boston was 1/2 on the power play heading into the final frame.
Reinhart (23) tied the action, 2-2, with a quick release from the slot, while Victor Olofsson (17) and Jeff Skinner (6) worked the puck deep into the zone and earned the assists on Reinhart’s goal at 1:43 of the third period.
Almost midway through the final frame, Coyle (6) stole the rubber biscuit in the neutral zone and charged up the ice– forcing his own breakaway into fruition while Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen trailed on his back– before roofing the puck top-shelf for his first goal in 28 games.
Coyle’s individual effort was unassisted and ended the longest scoring drought in his career thus far (nine years) and made it, 3-2, for Boston at 7:58 of the third period.
Moments later, Krejci and Dahlin got tangled up in a bit of a heated exchange in which Krejci was handed a minor for interference and Dahlin received a holding infraction, yielding two minutes of 4-on-4 action at 13:30.
Just as the two clubs resumed 5-on-5 play, Smith worked the puck to Krejci while No. 46 in black and gold broke into the attacking zone by deking around Dahlin, then toe-dragging around Henri Jokiharju before setting up Taylor Hall (7) for the one-timer goal at 16:43.
Hall’s goal gave Boston some insurance with a, 4-2, lead, while Krejci (26) and Smith (19) had the assists.
About a minute later, Connor Clifton, slashed former teammate, Anders Bjork, and presented Buffalo with a power play at 17:47.
Sabres interim head coach, Don Granato, pulled Luukkonen for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Marchand (27) sent the puck into the open net from his own end on a floater of a shot just under the bar for his 31st career shorthanded goal.
Marchand’s empty net goal was unassisted at 18:26 and the Bruins secured the, 5-2, victory as a result at the final horn.
Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 40-31, including a, 12-9, advantage in the third period alone.
Buffalo finished the night leading in his (30-24), while the B’s wrapped up Thursday’s action with the advantage in blocked shots (9-7), giveaways (10-8) and faceoff win% (59-41).
The Sabres went 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins finished 1/2 on the skater advantage.
Boston improved to 21-5-3 (10-0-2 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 17-0-2 (9-0-1 at home) when leading after the first period and 20-0-2 (12-0-2 at home) when leading after two periods in 2020-21.
Buffalo, meanwhile, fell to 6-26-2 (3-11-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 3-20-0 (2-8-0 on the road) when trailing after one and 1-26-2 (0-11-1 on the road) when losing after the second period this season.
The Bruins face the Sabres to kick off the month of May on Saturday afternoon before hitting the road for a pair of games next week in New Jersey against the Devils. Boston went 11-5-1 in the month of April.