BOSTON – When a hockey team is as hot as the Bruins had been for the last three months with a 27-4-4 record in their last 35 games, it’s only a matter of time before a disappointing dud gets mixed in with all of the high quality efforts. That mistake-filled no-show finally arrived on Saturday night when the Bruins simply never matched the work ethic and energy level of the lowly Buffalo Sabres, and never led at any point in a 4-2 loss to Buff at TD Garden.
So much of what was going on was tremendously uncharacteristic for the Black and Gold: Boston’s top line was dreadful with a combined minus-6 rating and just two shots on net, the Bruins defense allowed odd-man rushes and got gashed by Buffalo’s transition attack and the Bruins forwards never got their all-important fore-check on track at any point during the game.
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Other than that, the hockey game was great, Mrs. Lincoln.
“I think we were flat and just like the Anaheim game, I mean, when you do that you just don’t deserve it, plain and simple,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We didn’t respect the game plan and I really thought it was at the blue lines on both sides. [There were] a lot of mental mistakes if you want to put it that way. They were coming back at us and you saw a lot of two-on-ones and breakaways, and stuff you don’t want to see."
“We should have played a simple game and went back to just going in there and establishing some good fore-check and some O-zone time. We didn’t do that.”
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Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning won big on Saturday as well and have begun re-widening the gap to a five point lead over Boston with the B’s still holding a couple of games in hand. But it wasn’t about any of those things on Saturday when Adam McQuaid had his worst game since coming back from injury with a minus-2 that included a turnover and blocked shot that directly led to two of Buffalo’s four goals during the evening. It also included Tuukka Rask getting his 21-game point streak snapped when he was beaten on three of the 27 shots that he faced, and was probably Boston’s best player on the ice in a forgettable 60 minutes of hockey.
The Bruins had done a remarkable job of not falling into the trap against a lousy opponent for most of this season, but that wasn’t the case for the second time this season against the Sabres.
“That was kind of the word I thought of too, was “flat”…that they had good sticks, and they had good energy. I’ve been on that side of the ledger where you’re a team that’s not expected to win, and you’re playing a good team, and it kind of scares you into playing perfectly with good sticks and energy all over the place,” said David Backes. “They had that, which should not have been an issue if we played our game the way we need to and get pucks behind them and have 10-foot support.
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“We were looking to hit a lot of home runs tonight, and they were in good spots. They transitioned against us, and the goals they scored, those are instances where Tuukks [Tuukka Rask] sometimes makes those saves, but he’s not supposed to make those saves. We needed more from everyone throughout the lineup, and we were backfiring on everything that we were trying to shove into the engine tonight. I don’t know if it was too excited to play Buffalo, we were looking at the standings or what, but if we stick to our principles, we’re having a different conversation.”
The bad news for the Bruins is that it wasn’t a different conversation in one of Boston’s worst efforts since the middle of November. The good news is that the Black and Gold will get a chance to redeem themselves 24 hours later with a Sunday road game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.